“Make happy noises, little toy.”
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, PM
Celia: It’s late when Celia finally texts him. Later than dinner. But that’s how her plans have seemed to go lately, off script, and that’s how late she slept after passing out in her dorm. She hadn’t expected him to keep his evening open for her, but she also doesn’t triple check their vague plans. She simple sends him a brief “omw” text and heads out.
She doesn’t take her car. She calls for a cab instead, lets Emily know she’s going out to meet a friend—just in case—and heads out. It’s half past nine when she arrives, scanning the small restaurant for Em.
Emmett: Em wakes up in the late afternoon and feels like shit. So he does a line of coke. He still feels like shit, but now time moves faster. After two or three more, he might feel like shit, but he’s too busy watching three movies at once to notice.
He barely notices it’s not peak dining hours when she texts him. Not that it matters—it’s right next to his building, and he doesn’t keep normal hours anyway. She can see him waving at her enthusiastically to a table in the back corner when she enters. His pupils are the size of a cartoon character’s.
“Ceeeelia,” he sings as she comes over. “You’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily—Madeline, can we get two hurricanes over here?”
If she was worried he thought this was a date, the sight of him in an old sweatshirt and jeans probably sets her at ease, even if absolutely nothing else about him does. He doesn’t look very much like a girl at all, now.
GM: “You got it,” the waitress calls back, jotting down the order.
Celia: That was easy. Hard not to spot the man waving at her and singing her name from across the way, even if she doesn’t quite recognize him with all of his clothes on and no makeup. He seems… off. She hesitates before she sits, though whether it’s the pain she’s still in or the fact that his pupils are blown is anyone’s guess.
She sits slowly, gingerly, perched on the edge of the chair with as little of her ass touching it as she can manage. She’s been balancing all day. Her thighs will be steel after this, she’s sure of it. Now, though, they’re hidden behind another loose dress with another sunny print. One of her arms is in a backslab and splint.
“Em. Been a while.”
Outside of the treatment room, the dynamic has shifted. This isn’t her world anymore and she knows it.
GM: Café Soulé is a modestly-priced restaurant literally next door to Em’s apartment building. It’s still a bit more expensive than making his own breakfast, but the convenience can’t be beat. The surroundings reflect the price tag. There’s round, slightly scuffed wooden tables and functional chairs, spruced up with flower vases and Belle Époque-era paintings of ballet dancers and suited gentlemen meeting at, fittingly enough, a café. French flags and cast iron lamp lights give the place an Old World ambiance. At the far side of the room, there’s a modestly well-stocked bar and chalk blackboard that spells out the day’s specials, as well as drinks for a happy hour that’s still a ways off.
Emmett: Em shrugs and makes a dismissive gesture at her statement, as if to wave away the weeks since their last meeting. Turns out, not a lot of call for makeup when you exclusively fuck women.
“Maybe it has been—too long, too long. Please, let me pay for everything—how are you, Cici?” He laughs a little bit when he says that, though she couldn’t say why. He snaps his fingers before she can answer. “Not good! You told me already. How are things not good, and how can we kiss it better?”
Celia: “Are you offering?” The words are out of her mouth before she can stop them. Then the implication sets in, and it’s not her face she’s picturing him kissing better. Her cheeks burn.
He’s your client, she reminds herself. As if that would stop him. She’s pretty sure he only asked her to wax him that day to make her uncomfortable. Or test his charms. And hadn’t he—stop it.
“Are you drunk?”
Emmett: He laughs at her flustered reply. “No, not yet, though that should be changing fairly soon. I’ve put my best people on it. And I am really offering to help you, if I can, and if it doesn’t mean going to a museum. I have been thinking,” he tells her, “how much I hate museums all day. My family loves them. Favorite thing to do on a weekend. I haven’t been to one since I was sixteen. Never. Again. Like the Holocaust. Or 9/11. Both of which I learned way too much about, guess where, in museums.”
“Sorry, I’m talking a lot. I’m not drunk, yet, but I am very high.” He eyes her with those too-big eyes. “Is that a problem for you? I can leave, and give you some cash for dinner.” He doesn’t sound offended. More guilty.
Celia: Why on Earth, Celia wonders, is he talking about museums?
And then he tells her, and it all kind of clicks into place. The waving. The pupils. The chatter. She is both more and less apprehensive about this at the revelation that he showed up high.
“It’s fine,” she tells him. She might even mean that. “I’ve never been,” she confesses, because it’s easier to talk about than what she came here for. Her eyes slip toward the table, the menu, and she picks at the edges with one freshly manicured nail. “Maybe I should try it.”
“Have you ever been upstairs here? They say it’s haunted.”
Emmett: His eyes widen. “They do? Oh, goody, then I definitely want to go upstairs after we’re done. I’m haunted, too. Maybe I’ll make friends—Madeline, you are an angel.”
Two tall glasses of red-orange amber are set between them. Em takes a long pull off his.
“Have you ever been drunk before?”
Her sister hadn’t. He remembers that night.
GM: “And you tip well, so I guess you’re one too,” the waitress smiles. She asks if they’re ready to order or still want some time to make up their minds.
Emmett: “Hmm, could you bring us some crab cakes for now? Unless she knows what she wants.”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. She hadn’t even looked.
“That’s good for now.” She slides the drink towards her, sipping from the provided straw. Makes a face, then nods and sips again. “Drunk? No. Uh. Sort of? Once, but not really? Sheltered life, et cetera.” She waves a hand. The other stays on her lap. “Why? Planning on doing it all tonight?”
GM: “Okay, crab cakes to start off,” Madeline jots down before taking her leave.
Emmett: “Doing what? Drinking?”
Celia: “You’re already high,” she points out. “Are you supposed to mix them?”
Emmett: “I’m not supposed to do either,” the 18-year-old points out. “And also, no. But I am, and I will, because that’s what I do. Things I’m not supposed to.”
He regards her across the table. “And that’s why you came to get my advice, because I know what it’s like to do the thing they don’t want you to do. Isn’t it?”
Celia: “Because you have sex for money, which means you live outside of all of… this.” She gestures toward herself.
The rules. Normal society. Polite company.
“So… yes. I’m betting on the fact that you can help, or know someone who can.”
Emmett: “I have sex for free, too, but the money is a nice perk.” He drinks more of his Hurricane. “Did I tell you about the time your sister tried to get me to fuck her? I didn’t, because I felt bad for her. And because she was doing it so your daddy could get angry at her, I think. Which was a bummer. And because I was still hung up over… other people. I’ll help you,” he decides, waving a finger at her, “if you play a drinking game with me. No other charge.”
Celia: She considers him, then the drink in front of her. This was a mistake.
“Cécilia?” she asks. “Didn’t you used to call her Cici, too?” She sips. “Fine. Deal. What’s the game?”
Emmett: He raises an eyebrow at the name. “I wondered if you knew her,” he says. “Isabel did. I did call her Cici, but only in my head. A woman like that is dangerous to give a nickname.”
“The game is simple. We ask each other questions, and the other person answers or they drink. No lying. It’s my day off. I’ll start.”
He swishes the ice in his hurricane around. “Did she ever talk about me?” There’s real sadness in those eyes, and regret.
Celia: “Yes. Frequently.” She pauses. “Even after.” They’d spent a few weekends curled on the couch together with pints of fat free, sugar free, flavor free ice cream.
“Why’d you lie to her?”
Emmett: “Different reasons, at different times. If I told you the full story, you wouldn’t believe me. But if you want the easy answer, because I was seventeen and she was somebody and I was nobody. If you want the longer answer…” He takes another pull.
“My turn. What do you want with your life?”
Celia: Celia drinks. It’s easier than trying to explain. It’s a long pull, following his example. The straw is discarded.
“What’s haunting you?”
Emmett: Oh, how many answers there are to that question. It’s tempting to simply drink. But you have to give some to get some.
“I’m in love with somebody who hates me, because I ruined her life. And she’s the only person who can ever understand how fucked I am, so I know that she’s the only person who can ever really love me, too. But she can’t, because nobody who knows me can love me.”
He slides his finger along the lip of his glass, making it squeal with pleasure, or maybe pain. “What did you come here to tell me?”
Celia: Well now, that’s the answer to his last question too. She drinks, but only to give herself the courage to get it out.
“Daddy is in jail. For now. I have a pretty firm suspicion that the charges aren’t going to stick.” That voice in her ear. Those arms around her. She shivers. “There’s only one thing that can keep a man like that down.”
Her eyes scan his face. This might be a mistake.
“Can you help?”
Emmett: Em stares at her. He doesn’t look horrified or uncertain. Just impressed.
“What are you asking me to do?” He wants her to say it.
Celia: She squirms. His eyes are piercing. She reaches for her glass, then stops.
Emmett: “He’s a state senator,” Em says mildly. “And he’s under guard, if he’s in jail. He in OPP?”
Celia: Celia blinks. Drinks. Looks around for those crab cakes, maybe a refill.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what they did with him.”
GM: She picks a timely moment.
“There you guys are,” says the waitress as she sets them down. They’re two 3 oz cakes served on top of a bed of mixed greens and finished with a zesty-looking pale orange remoulade sauce. Some lemons provide a final garnish.
“Know what you want for any entrées yet, or still making up your minds?”
Celia: “Monte Cristo, thank you so much.” Celia flashes her a smile, as if she’s not in the middle of talking about killing her father. “And another… hurricane. Two?” She looks to Em.
GM: “You got it,” the waitress smiles back as she jots the order down.
Emmett: “Two,” Em agrees with an equally carefree smile, as if he was actually contemplating murdering Maxen. “And can I get the shrimp and Eggplant Pierre? Thaaanks.”
After Madeline is gone, his smile softens to something more serious. “So, first things first, you should know that’s a terrible idea. Speaking as somebody on the wrong side of the law in a lot of ways. But I’m glad you came to me about it, because even though I’m coked out of my mind right now, I can still explain exactly why you won’t get what you want even if you could find somebody who could pull that off.”
He takes a bite of crab cake and closes his eyes. “Oh, fuck, that’s really good. I would actually kill for this. I should come here more often. And I come here a lot. What were we talking about? Right, why I’m not going to murder your dad. The main one is, he’s big people. And when big people die, this city goes crazy. I mean, we’re talking FBI getting involved, politicians riding police until they make an arrest, all kinds of shit. This isn’t something you would hire a guy like me for. It’s something you’d hire, like, one of the A-Team. Or somebody else who doesn’t fucking exist. And for shit’s sake, eat your crab cake. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“I wasn’t asking you to do it.” She has no interest in the crab cake. Just the man in front of her, who is now confirming exactly what everyone has thought about her for so long. She presses her face into her hand. Just the one. The other remains immobilized by the splint. Stupid.
“He’s going to get out. He’s going to get off. He’s going to get custody back, and I’m going to end up right back where I was, bent over his fucking knee with his hands on me.”
It’s not his problem. She realizes that now. She knew it before she ever opened her mouth, too, before she ever sent him that text. She laughs. It’s cold, empty, like the glass in front of her once she finishes slinging back the rest of the drink. Fucking stupid. Maybe she can beg him to forgive her. Maybe she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will have all been a terrible dream, brought on by the pain of her father beating her bloody.
But Em knows now.
She takes a bite of the crab cake.
“Phenomenal,” she says.
Emmett: He looks at her for a moment. Then he reaches out and touches her on the shoulder. She notices, probably not for the first time, how weak his grip is. How skinny his arms are. He can’t be stronger than her.
But his hand is there, and it is gentle. “No,” he says, and there’s nothing addled in his voice when he says it. “He won’t. I promise. I won’t let you go back to the way things were. But if you kill him, your problems will get much, much worse. Trust me.”
Celia can see it in his eyes, past the coke and booze and whatever mania tears through him.
He knows what he’s talking about.
“If you want to kill a man like Maxen, you don’t go after his body. You go after his reputation. His name.”
Celia: He promised. Em promised. It’s like a lifeline that she can cling to, and she follows it back out of the spiraling depths of whatever hell she’d started to sink into. She touches his hand, squeezing his fingers. She has to believe him. If she doesn’t there’s nothing left, and she might as well turn the stolen gun on herself. Maybe that’s what the thing intended.
“How?” she finally asks. “I don’t have a way back in. He’ll know what I did.”
He’ll kill me.
Emmett: “Sure he will. But you know who might be interested in what he did? The media. You talk to any press about him being arrested?”
GM: A moment passes.
Emmett: “…guess that answers that.”
Celia: “No. I’ve been… busy. Judges. Restraining orders.” Celia slides her chair around the table, lowers her voice. “Miranda is doing her thing.”
Emmett: “What’s that mean, here?”
He’s kind of puzzled she’s being more secure about this than discussing her father’s murder.
Celia: That second round of drinks hasn’t come yet. She reaches for his instead. Drink enough and all your problems float away, right?
“Digging. Planning. She has…”
Trust, right? Take the plunge. Let him help. Can he help, this boozed-up, coked-up male whore? Stupid.
“Remember when you told me I couldn’t be a whore?”
Emmett: He blinks. “Um.”
Celia: “You did. While you were naked. Had your…y’know.” She glances down at his lap, then back up. Wiggles her eyebrows. It’s obnoxious. “Said it would be too hard for me, but that might have been a dick joke.”
Emmett: “It wasn’t and also, I feel like you’re missing the point of my confusion. When I say ‘um’, like that, I mean, what the fuck?”
The inability of others to understand his many degrees of witticism will probably have terrible consequences.
Like, at some point.
Celia: “You were wrong. That’s my point. You thought I couldn’t. But I did. Which means… I can do this.”
GM: “Sorry those took a while! Crazy evening here,” Madeline says as she arrives with more drinks. The hurricane is a local classic, with rum, lemon juice, orange juice, and fruit syrup, serve in the eponymous tall and curvy ‘hurricane glass.’
Celia: “Thank you.” Another winning smile for the server, never mind the fact that her eyes are a little unfocused. One hurricane on an empty stomach with a single bite of crab cake to soak it up? Yeah.
Emmett: Amidst the flurry of activity, he stares at her, but holds his tongue until Madeline again retreats to the kitchen. “How did you start whoring? And what were you saying about Miranda?”
Celia: “When I asked the wrong person the wrong question and he put me onto my knees.”
Emmett: He looks confused. “Was the question, ‘will you pay me to have sex with you?’ Otherwise I’m pretty sure that’s just rape.”
“I mean, not that rape is, like, better.”
Celia: “And yet he’s sitting pretty in his house, and here I am, because that’s the kind of game people like my dad play. They’re going to let him off.” She fixes him with a look. “So tell me why I shouldn’t just put him down rather than risk going back to that.”
Emmett: He leans towards her, his forehead almost touching hers and the alcohol in their breath mingling.
“I already did. But you seem to have made up your mind already. Look. Even if you ignore all the reasons it’s a bad idea to whack a state senator, what’s your plan here? What do you have Miranda doing? Does she know what you’re planning?”
Celia: Whack Daddy. And wouldn’t that be nice. It’s a testament to the rum that she doesn’t recoil from him getting up close and personal.
“No. She… no. She has something. That I told her to leak if she doesn’t hear from me.” She puts a finger on his chest. “You don’t think I can do it.”
Emmett: He looks into her eyes, his own narrowing. “I think you don’t know what killing does to person. And I think you’re desperate enough to do it anyway.”
Just like I was.
He entwines his fingers with hers, folding her accusing hand in his. It’s warm.
“Look, Celia, I am telling you as somebody who has made every mistake in the book. This won’t solve your problem. It’ll make it ten times worse. You asked for my help, let me give it to you. There’s another way.”
Celia: “When I was fourteen,” she tells him, her voice no louder than a whisper, “I saw him attack my mom. He tried to kill her. And I was there. And I had a gun. And I hesitated. And… and my mom can’t… her leg…”
Stupid. Em is right. She doesn’t know what it would do. And she doesn’t think she can pull the trigger. Because this isn’t watching him attack someone she loves, this is going after him in cold blood.
“Tell me. Tell me… what other way.”
Emmett: “Blackmail,” he says, instantly. “Your backup plan, with Miranda? That should be your number one. You tell her to set up drops so that if anything happens to you, if you don’t stop it every week from now until he drops dead, everything gets sent to the media. What you gave her, is it enough to burn him?”
GM: The food arrives. The monte cristo is a decadent fried confection: beyond the usual ham, mayo, gooey melted cheese, and egg- and butter-lathered fried bread, it’s been topped with delicate white powdered sugar. French fries together with a dark dipping sauce provide the side.
The shrimp and eggplant Pierre is the signature dish at Café Soulé. The eggplant is sliced, covered in breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. The eggplant stack is surprisingly crispy and not soggy at all, even though it is covered in decadent, sinfully buttery heavy cream sauce flavored with shrimp. To top it all off, even more grilled shrimp are scattered over the stack of eggplant and to the plate’s edges.
Madeline gives them more smiling pleasantries like they aren’t talking about killing Celia’s father and takes her leave.
Celia: “I… maybe?”
She can’t finish her thought before they’re interrupted. She doesn’t move, though, and if the waitress thinks it’s weird that—you know what, Celia doesn’t care. She nods, smiles, says thanks, and looks right back to Em.
“It’s what he… what he did last night. I don’t know if it’s enough.” She hadn’t planned on telling him, but there it goes pouring out of her mouth.
Emmett: “Get some food in you, it’ll help,” he tells her. “And… do you want to tell me what it is?”
Celia: The thought of food turns her stomach. She doesn’t want to eat. Doesn’t want to be here anymore, telling him that she’s a fuckup, because then he’ll think she’s stupid too. Stupid and a whore.
He already does.
“He stripped me. At the dinner table. He hit me until I bled, and then he kept going, and he made them all watch. And when it was over he promised he’d do it again tomorrow, too.”
Emmett: He nods, simply. “That’s fucked up. I can understand why you wouldn’t want other people to see it, too, unless they absolutely had to.” He hesitates. “Whether it’s enough to end his career… it’ll absolutely hurt him, make him a liability. But you’re right, it’d be nice to have something else to hold over him.”
He takes a bite of butter-drenched shrimp. “Fuck. Try this. Come on, Cici, it’ll make you feel better.”
Some part of him wonders what he’s doing. What his angle is.
But most of him just thinks the food is really good and he should do some more coke soon.
Celia: She just looks at him. This is a mistake. This whole night, this whole day, this whole plan. One big mistake after another.
She shoves back in her chair, actually sitting for the first time since she arrived, and she’s glad for the entire glass of Hurricane she sucked down and how it numbs her nerve endings to the fire that shoots through her at the full contact with the seat. She reaches for her new glass instead of the food.
Maybe if she drinks enough the rest of her won’t hurt either.
“You’re right.” She doesn’t specify. Just drinks. “Thanks for listenin’. Who’s the girl?”
Emmett: Em frowns. “Come on, don’t be like that. It’s just a matter of getting something over your dad he can’t bear to see go public. Like…” He hesitates. “Did he beat your mom?”
He doesn’t seem eager to answer her other question. He drinks.
Celia: “Did you miss the part where I said I walked in on him tryin’ to kill her?” She picks at her fries, but none of them make it to her mouth.
Emmett: “I might have, this whole conversation is kind of batshit. So… being prosecuted for attempted murder, if you’re trying to do that, actually really fucks up a politician’s image. I mean, even if he eventually beat the charges, that’s like a gatling gun for his opponents. But if Maxen was given the option to avoid that…” He leaves it hanging.
Celia: “He gets out and he kills me. I’m just one more thing to add to your list of hauntings, Em.” But that would require caring, and she isn’t sure that he does.
She goes back to her drink. Stupid.
“Mom already reported it. Last night. Cat’s outta the bag.”
Emmett: Em stares her dead in the eyes and says, “Well, if that happens, then I suppose I’ll just have to go against my own advice and cross him myself. Not like my own life is all that hot, anyways. But look. You still have leverage over him. Don’t let him bully you. Don’t let him make you feel small. You aren’t.” He takes another bite of shrimp and eggplant. “Did you drive here?”
Celia: She doesn’t insult him by laughing at the idea of him going up against her father. She drinks instead, hiding her amused smile. And then she remembers the story he told her—mouthing off to him just because he could—and she thinks the crazy boy might actually do it. She eyes him over the rim of her glass.
“No. Cab. Good thing, too.” She sets the glass back down. She’s done enough stupid things lately, no need to add driving while intoxicated to that list. While underage and intoxicated. She eyes him. “They don’t card you here?”
Emmett: “Not me,” he says simply. “Don’t worry about it.”
He doesn’t sound like he’s joking. He sounds… resigned to it. Like it wasn’t what he was planning to do with the rest of his life but it seems like as good a way to spend it as any.
Em looks at her. “Okay, let’s play the game again. What do you think of me, right now?”
Celia: “I think you think I’m stupid. I think you talk a lot. I think you’re frustrating and you don’t tell the truth and you hide behind booze. I think I’m glad you didn’t fuck my sister. I think I’m glad I called you even though it isn’t really what I wanted to hear. I think,” she says slowly, “that I want to trust you, even if I shouldn’t, and that… I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all.”
She shakes her head, and blinks glazed eyes at him. “I think you’re dramatic, too. But you’re cute, so I guess it’s okay. Wait, why, what do you think of me?” She asks as if it is the most important thing in the world, as if she has forgotten the point of the game.
Maybe it’s that hurricane and a half she just slugged on an empty stomach.
Emmett: He sits and drinks as she tells him what she thinks of him. It’s nice to hear it out loud, sometimes.
He almost laughs at her roundabout, but she’s reeling. He doesn’t want to upset her. Instead he smiles warmly enough to hide the high in his eyes, and says, “Well, I don’t think you’re stupid. Not any stupider than me, anyway, which maybe isn’t saying so much. If you knew the mistakes I’ve made…”
He shakes his head. “I think you’re too good for your family. And I think Cécilia has good judgment in friends. Most of the time.” He drinks a little more. “And I think you were kind to me when you didn’t need to be. And I think it bothers me that you might get hurt, too. And you aren’t stupid. You’re right. I am dramatic. It helps.” He leans forward. “And I think I want to make sure you’re okay. So eat something? Please?”
Celia: “…d’you really think ‘m too good for my family, or are you just sayin’ it?”
That, in particular, lands for Celia. And there’s some part of her that is aware she is fishing, that she turned to a client to make her feel better, that her self-worth is tied up in what other people think of her. But she wants to hear him say it anyway, or maybe she wants to hear him say “please” one more time the way he did, all earnest-sounding, because she doesn’t bite. Not yet.
Emmett: “Have you met your family?” he says, wryly. “I have. You’re the best of ’em.” He skewers a shrimp on his fork, twirls it in the sauce until it’s dripping in butter, and holds it out to her. He doesn’t say “here comes the airplane,” but he does say, again, “Please. For me.”
Celia: She’s pretty sure that if she wasn’t already sitting her knees would have given out.
Her lips part obediently for the shrimp. She takes it off the end of the fork, dripping butter and all, and hates that she loves it as much as she does.
“Trouble,” she says again. “You win.” She turns to her own plate.
Emmett: “Yeah,” he agrees, “I am.”
I wonder if you realize yet you are, too.
He’s content to eat in mostly silence after that, making small, harmless talk. He tries to make her laugh, when he can. He’s good at that.
When they’re done and waiting for the check (or desert, if she wants—he recommends the nutella crepe) he asks, “Did you want to go upstairs? See if it’s really haunted?”
He’s come down a bit, now. He can tell by his mood.
Celia: “Are we allowed?” Her head tilts to one side, eyes on him. She’s still reeling—she only ate half of the sandwich presented and a handful of fries, no dessert thank you very much she is a dancer—but managed to finish that second glass. Then her palm finds her chin, and she smiles in a bemused sort of way.
“I suppose that wouldn’t stop you.”
Emmett: “Probably not,” he grins. When Madeline comes by, he asks about if they can go upstairs, the provided pen lounging dizzily over the tip line. If she seems hesitant at first, he emphasizes how grateful he would be. He is, after all, a regular.
GM: “Wellll, it’s kinda not up to me, but…” She looks around, then adds in a lower voice, “Just don’t let my boss know, all right?”
Emmett: “Of course not, m’dear,” he says, as he leaves a too-generous tip. “Of course not.”
He leads Celia upstairs when he’s pretty sure nobody’s looking, used to sneaking into places drunk. He’s getting a kick out of playing chaperone.
Celia: “S’used to be an orphanage,” Celia says to him once he’s dragged her up the stairs. She wonders why everyone who is in pain doesn’t just drink to forget about it; she barely missed a step. “They say sometimes you can hear the kids’ ghosts runnin’ around.” She leans in. “D’you believe in ghosts, Em?”
Emmett: He’s quiet for a moment. “I can believe in anything.” He doesn’t drag her so much as help her glide up the stairs with her arm in his. “Lot of things in this world. When I was a boy, and visiting the other Delacroix folk in the bayou, they’d tell me ghost stories. Not that middle school guff. Real ghost stories. Maybe I’ll tell you one when things are better. What about you?”
Celia: “Ghosts? Maybe. I believe in monsters. The kind that crawl out from under the bed but don’t care if you’re under the blankets, they’ll get you anyway, and everyone else you care about, and once they’re out you can’t put them back. The kind that hide in the darkness, waiting for you to make the wrong move, and plant ideas in your head.” She doesn’t let go of his arm, even at the top of the stairs. She blames her heels, but she’s in flats.
GM: Upstairs is called the Paris Room. Celia hasn’t been here before, but it’s familiar enough:
It’s a ballroom with a high ceiling, street balcony, and adjacent garden terrace. A private bar, currently untended, lurks near the spiral staircase. There’s some furniture, chandeliers, and a Bell Epoque painting of Parisian dandies having a grand old time. For the moment, the two have the room to themselves.
It feels almost criminal not to dance.
Celia: Celia doesn’t hesitate; as soon as she sees the floor she knows what she wants to do. She already has his arm. It’s a simple maneuver to put his hand at her waist instead, and even if he isn’t a strong dancer she’s good enough for the both of them. Even with one of her arms in a backslab. She leads him—or rather, leads him leading her—across the floor. She hums as they move, keeping time.
GM: Em’s been up here his share of times. Private events get hosted semi-regularly. Parties. Even a few weddings. It’s easy to talk his way in and there’s free food, usually from the restaurant below.
He can’t remember seeing any ghosts. Maybe they felt like a third wheel.
People have ghosts enough of their own.
Emmett: “I—oh.” He’s smart enough to know when not to talk. He’s an all right dancer. Brother Martin’s offered lessons, anyways. It was sexier than shop class.
He lets her lead him into leading her, at first, but throws in a few flourishes so she gets to react a little, twirling her far and close without any regard they might normally have for other couples.
He wonders if the ghosts are watching.
They end facing the mural, her head against his chin, his hands clasping hers. “Dancing runs in the family, huh?”
He has to whisper into her ear. It feels wrong to talk too loudly, here.
GM: Robot dancer, whispers one ‘ghost.’
Celia: She’s breathless by the end of it, her eyes lit by joy, hair coming untucked with the simple act of twirling around the ballroom. Strands of it twirl with her, swaying with every laugh that passes by her lips. This is where Celia comes alive, here on the dance floor, with her dress flying up around her as they dip and spin and sashay.
His whisper sends a shiver down her spine. She opens her mouth to retort when the other whisper cuts in. The light fades from her eyes. She shivers once more, and when she presses herself against him it’s for different reasons than she’d intended.
Emmett: “What?” His fingers trace little circles on the insides of her palms.
Celia: “…nothing.” She can’t escape them, even here. Every time she dances it’s the same, the mocking voice, the memories of practicing until her toes are black and blue and bleeding. She wants to go again, but the magic of the moment is lost, and another spin around the floor will not bring it back. Her legs are wooden. The pain in her backside has returned.
“There’s a bar,” she says, pointing. Her eyebrows lift in question.
Emmett: “There is,” he agrees. “How are you feeling? I don’t want to push you too hard. I want you to have fun, not get sick.”
Celia: “Dizzy,” she admits. “My… back is bothering me.”
Back, backside, it’s all the same. Her arm, too, but he was gentle with her there, and dancing with a broken arm is easier than dancing with a hacksawed leg.
Her stomach churns. Ghosts indeed.
Emmett: “Why don’t I get us something nice from behind the bar, and then walk up to my place? It’s right next door. Or I could call you a cab.” He twirls her around so she can face him, but holds her still.
Celia: He’s too close.
“Trouble,” she says again. But she isn’t ready to go home. Home is where the rest of the ghosts are. “I’d like to see your place.”
Emmett: “Mi casa, su casa.” He nabs the most expensive-looking liqueur from behind the bar, then lead her back down the stairs with a protective arm around her. He wishes Madeline a good night.
His place isn’t far at all. It’s literally next door. It’s a nice place, but it doesn’t feel like a home. The furniture is pricey but looks like it was picked out of a catalogue. There’s a TV with a bunch of devices plugged in, a kitchen that doesn’t look like it gets enough use, and a lot of posters that feel more like they’re taking up space than trying to represent taste.
Em pours out two generous measures of whatever it is he’s stolen—stolen things, he tells her, taste better. He turns on the TV, too, to his Webflix queue, which is easily the most personalized part of his entire living ensemble. She should pick a movie, he says, as he retrieves a baggie of coke and starts spilling out a line.
“I have weed, too, if you’re in the mood for something else,” he volunteers. “No pressure, though.”
Celia: Celia is not familiar with Webflix. She tells him so, but she scrolls through the list of movies anyway while he collects his things, sipping at the drink he’d poured for her. It does taste better.
“Spoken from experience?” She presses play on a movie before she can finish reading the description, and the scene opens with a girl holding a a microphone with an oversized red windscreen. She starts speaking Spanish, the subtitles come up on the screen, but Celia’s eyes drift toward what Em is doing with the lines.
“I’ve never…” she lets the words linger between them. She’d already told him. No pressure, but that’s a lie, isn’t it? “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” She gestures toward whatever it is he’s doing.
Emmett: “Absolutely,” He says to her first question. “Food, money, love—it’s all better when you’re not supposed to have it.”
He smiles approvingly at her other statement. “That’s wise of you. A lot of people don’t know their own limits. Does your back still hurt? Weed can help with that. A lot of people use it as medicine,” he says. “Cancer patients and people with aches.”
Celia: “Do they, or are you just tryin’ to get me high?” The rule are going out the window tonight. She is right: he’s trouble. She’s tempted, and another sip of that drink—“what is this, anyway?”—makes her say yes. She’d like to not be in pain for a little while.
Emmett: He glances at the label. “Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure,” he reads, drawling out an exaggerated French accent to do it justice. “I watered it down a little and dropped a sugar cube in. Good stuff.”
He punctuates his sentence with a snort. He feels like himself again. Except, not like himself. Which is the point. He blinks furiously for a minute, before answering her other question.
“And you know, it’s a little column a, little column b. You’re smart to be weary, but I’m not out to get you. Just to help you unwind.” He glances at the screen. “Huh, Spanish film. Could be fun. I don’t practice enough, anyways.”
He joins her on the couch a few minutes later with a joint and an ashtray. “It won’t take much, so I’ll probably have most of this, but you could get a good puff or two and it’ll be enough for a first high. You’ll cough a bit, that’s normal, so I got you some water.”
He sets the glass down next to her drink. “Just try and inhale deeply and keep the smoke in your lungs. Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at first.”
He’s very motherly about it. He lights the joint first, takes a long puff, shows her how the cherry burns inward steadily, and exhales a small cloud of smoke before offering it to her.
They’re very close. It’s not such a large sofa, but it is comfortable.
It becomes apparent pretty quickly she’s chosen a horror flick. A disease spreads among the tenants of an apartment building that makes them rabid and cannibalistic. It’s an intense film, but maybe more bearable than her reality. Still, he offers to change it, if she wants.
Or he can just hold her hand.
Celia: Did she hear him right? Absinthe? She almost asks if it’s true that it causes hallucinations, but he said that he’d watered it down, and she doesn’t need to look anymore silly than she already does. Hadn’t he once called her a doe? She wonders if he looks at her the same way.
Her gaze is intense as she watches him light the joint, inhale, and blow the smoke out a moment later. When he offers it to her she sets it between her lips and pulls. The smoke hits her throat and burns before it ever gets down into her lungs, and even though she tries to hold it in like he said she starts coughing and sputtering, passing it back to him to free up her hand for the glass of water.
The coughing fit passes. She does better her second time, managing at least to hold it in for a few seconds before her throat starts to tickle and she lets the smoke loose in something that lands firmly between a cough and a laugh.
She tells him she doesn’t feel anything. But by the time the characters in the movie have reached the attic she’s enthralled, and even though she took him up on holding her hand—it’s horror, that’s her excuse and she’s sticking to it—she still jumps when the little boy appears, turning her face into the hollow between his shoulder and neck. She might have even squeaked a little.
And this… this is nice, so she lingers there, with her head on his shoulder, doing her best to ignore the way her stomach flips. She murmurs an apology for the choice in movie, just for something to say, but she’s not sorry. Not sorry at all.
Emmett: He can tell. “It’s okay,” he says anyway.
The movie passes, and when the credit ends he looks at her. “Was tonight fun?”
Celia: “Yes.” She hasn’t moved from her spot. He’s warm. The couch is comfortable. That’s what she tells herself. “Why, is it over?”
Emmett: “Only if you want it to be.” He wraps an arm around her shoulders. “I could call you a cab, or sleep on the couch if you want the bed. Or we can stay up, I suppose. I’m not doing anything tomorrow.”
Celia: “You made me watch a horror movie an’ then you want me to sleep alone in a strange place?” She turns her face toward his. “That’s cruel.”
Emmett: He smiles faintly. “And yet, you don’t want to leave.”
Celia: “The monsters attack girls on their own. It’s a matter of safety.” Her tone implies the unsaid obviously.
Emmett: “The same ones that hide under beds?”
Celia: “And that lurk in the dark, waiting to snatch you up into their arms.” That press a hand to your mouth so you can’t scream. “So you see, if I leave and get got, it’s kind of your fault.”
Emmett: “Get got, look at you,” he chuckles. “I guess that means we should stay here, then. Where it’s safe.”
Celia: “Together though. Otherwise all you’ll hear is a scream, or a thud, or a movie score, and you’ll come looking and find nothing. Then it’s all Detective Em to the rescue. Girl tied up. Battle of good versus evil, winner take all.” She glances at the bottle. “Better to stay here and finish that and maybe smoke a little more. You know,” she looks back to him, lowers her voice, “safe things.”
Emmett: Em looks at her and positively beams. It’s a nice expression on him. “You’re actually a lot of fun when you want to be, Ms. Flores.”
Celia: “All this sweet talkin’, Em, but I can think of better uses for your mouth.”
She leans in. She kisses him.
Emmett: He’s surprised. She can feel it in his shoulders, and in his tongue as it curls reflexively around hers. His mouth tastes like the dinner they shared and absinthe and weed.
It’s good. For a second.
He pulls away, his arm still around her but his eyes sinking to the floor.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t. You wouldn’t like me. In the morning.”
“I don’t want to haunt you.”
Celia: Every single bit of her freezes. Just for an instant. Long enough for him to get his excuses out, and then she’s backpedaling away from him as quickly as her body can take her. Every bit of her is flushed, face red, eyes looking anywhere but at him.
It’s not you, it’s me. Right.
She addresses a lamp when she finally speaks. “I should go.” Her voice is tight.
Emmett: “Celia, please, don’t…”
He stops. Nothing he can say can make it better.
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
Then he says, “I was going to tell you later, but if you’re leaving… there’s somebody you should talk to for help. About your dad.”
“Somebody who can help. And she might.”
“Go to Cécilia. Tell her. Everything. And ask… ask if…” His eyes cloud, and for a moment there’s no other word to describe how he looks.
“Ask if her Maman can help you.”
He looks down again. “Best… best not to mention I sent you.”
Celia: The lamp does not betray the nuances of Em’s face as he speaks. Its shade remains the same unchanging mask, and with each word Celia edges closer and closer toward the door. Her cheeks burn in humiliation. She almost misses his words, so caught up in the story she is telling herself that she isn’t good enough for a man who literally gets paid for it, but Cécilia’s name pulls her out before the downward spiral puts her feet down the stairs.
Her hand is on the knob of the door, freedom a foot away. She finally looks at him in time to see his eyes on the ground. There’s a moment here, a moment where she could just leave. Never talk to him again. Pretend she was too high to know what she was doing. But he dangles the answer in front of her.
She hates him for it. Hates him for waiting until now, when they’d had all night. Now, when she had thrown herself at him, and he told her no. And she hates herself just as much when she opens her mouth and asks,
Emmett: “Because her mother is more dangerous than your father. She’s more dangerous than anybody. And she has influence. Lots of it. She can protect you. She’ll want to, if she knows you’re her daughter’s friend. That your mother was her beloved teacher.”
He takes a breath. “Celia, everything I touch turns to shit. If you knew—”
Celia: “Don’t.” She cuts him off. “I don’t want to know. I don’t—I don’t care.”
It’s a lie, she can hear it in her own voice, of course she wants to know. Why isn’t she good enough? Why, no matter how hard she tries, will she never be good enough?
The echo of a broken sob can be heard floating through the door before it closes behind her.
Emmett: He leans back on his couch, alone.
He finishes her drink.
I did the right thing, right? Yeah. I can tell by how it stings.
He does another line of coke, forgets who he is again, and watches another movie.
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, PM
The words keep coming. Bombarding her, over and over again. How stupid she is to think that someone like him—smart and funny and experienced—would be interested in her. Her worthlessness. “Better than the rest of them,” he’d said, and isn’t that a load. She’d clung to that. Let it fill her up, let it make her think maybe she wasn’t just one more piece of shit from a fucked up family.
Whore. God, what a whore. She has a boyfriend. A boyfriend that she’s already cheated on. A boyfriend that she would have cheated on again, just to make herself feel better for the night. What will he do if he finds out? He can’t find out. Em has no reason to tell him. Doesn’t even know him. Doesn’t know he exists. What if he does? a nagging voice asks.
She plays the night over in her mind. Every word. Every touch. They’d danced together. Drank together. Smoked together. He’d held her hand during the movie. Fed her. Told her things. Whispered in her ear.
And, oh, that’s the cincher, isn’t it? When he’d held her up in the ballroom and she could pretend that she was some beautiful heiress and he had his arms around her, and he’d leaned in to whisper in her ear, and had done something to her palms with his fingers and she’d let the rest of the world drop away. Even now her stomach flutters.
Why take her back to his place? Why let her in? She replays every moment, everything she said, every slip up and falter and halting word. And that kiss! So clumsy. She should have eased into it. Started with his neck, she’d been right there. She can still taste him, still feel that single moment when it was good before he told her no. Before rejection sank in.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
And now he thinks she’s a whore, and she can’t see him again, of course she can’t see him again, that’s just asking for more trouble, and his words hadn’t even sunk in until now—you won’t like me in the morning—but now that they have she remembers other things
that he had said similarly, other self-deprecating remarks, and there’s some absurd part of her that wants to go back and tell him… tell him she knows. She knows how he feels. Fold him into her arms and tell him she’s just as broken as he is and that she gets it, they’re just two sides of the same crazy coin. Apologize for being presumptuous, maybe. Tell him how she’s sabotaging her relationship with Stephen because she doesn’t think she’ll ever be good enough for the lawyer in training, because he’s a good person and she’s… she’s just shit.
Stupid. Worthless. Whore.
Her buzz is wearing off. Coming down. Spiraling, like she is, uncontrollably.
She stops walking. Her eyes scan the street ahead of her, around her, behind her. She should go back. Or go home. Without the weed in her system her body hurts again. Her arm throbs. Her backside is on fire. Her head pounds, too much alcohol and not enough water.
And she… doesn’t quite know where she is. Somewhere in the Quarter? It’s late. Dark. Unfamiliar at this hour. But bars are open, and Emily told her they don’t card here. She can find one, call a ride… and drink while she waits.
She starts walking again, looking for the first open place.
GM: An unassuming, single-story red building swims before her sight. An executioner’s axe hangs from the door.
There’s also another club nearby, with a lurid red neon sign winking out from the dark. Saints and Sinners.
She can ask herself which she is like the answer isn’t obvious.
Celia: Dungeon doesn’t sound like the type of place she is looking for this evening. It doesn’t even look like a bar. Maybe it’s one of those underground sex clubs Miranda mentioned earlier. Regardless, not her scene.
Celia turns away from it, the neon calling to her. This is more what she has in mind, though the question that the name leaves her with makes her feel grimy. She heads inside, looking for an empty seat at the bar. People alone sit at bars, right? Someone had told her that once.
GM: It’s red inside. Red neon lighting, red walls, red upholstery, all in the style of an old brothel. Celia can barely see ahead of her as industrial music pounds in her ears. The smell of sweat, smoke, and alcohol is omnipresent. The place seems like a bar first and dance club second. There are several well-used cruddy tables for dining, all in a typical shotgun-bar arrangement. Patrons are bathed in a sanguine sheen as their bodies writhe and undulate to the music.
There’s food and drinks to order. One of the latter is a ‘sinner.’
There’s also a ‘saint’ if she feels deserving of the name.
Celia: It’s loud. Dark. Crowded. The kind of place she can get lost in. The kind of place she wouldn’t mind going if she didn’t have her arm in a splint and have to keep it cradled against her body, wary of anyone bumping into her, jostling the already delicate skin and bone wrapped around her broken heart.
Sinner, she orders, handing over the cash and a tip. It’s generous enough to make sure she’s attended to without flaunting that she has money. No, she doesn’t want to start a tab, thank you.
GM: The bartender serves it up. Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.
“People here usually try the sinner,” says a curly-haired man in a leather jacket next to Celia.
“Who comes to Bourbon Street feeling like a saint?”
Celia: “No one who lasts long.”
Celia sips at the drink. It’s not as good as the Hurricane from earlier. Maybe that’s just the company.
“Though maybe if you drink enough of them the name rubs off on you.”
GM: “You look like you’re here because you haven’t drank enough,” smirks the curly-haired man.
“Let’s give you a refill.”
He plucks the drink from Celia’s hand, plants his palm over the rim, and rapidly spins it around several times. He smacks the glass down over the bar’s surface, rim-first, then flips it back up. There’s a wet spot where the rim touched the bar, but the drink is full again.
Celia: Her protest about just receiving the drink are lost amongst the action. She watches him spin and flip and whatever else he just did to her glass, head canted to one side. She takes it back and lets it sit in front of her.
“Let me guess… street magician?”
GM: “Technically not, but I have friends who are.”
Celia: “No? You just carry around bottles of things in your pockets to impress random girls at the bar?”
GM: “Did you see a bottle?” the man smirks. “It’s magic.”
Celia: “It was already full,” Celia points out, “you aerated it.”
GM: His smirk doesn’t fade. “Get it emptier, then. We’ll see if I can’t do it again.”
Celia: “The problem is,” Celia says with a sigh, waving at the bartender, “you put your palm over the open top, and I don’t know where your hands have been. And here I was, about to ask if you wanted to buy up into a Saint with me.”
GM: He’s pretty cute. Thick and curly dark hair, olive skin, dark brown eyes, light mustache and goatee.
“They’ve been all sorts of sinful places. But they’re germ-free, swear.”
Celia: “Did you know that 80% of men who use the restroom don’t wash their hands afterwards? You reach down there and give it a little shake and don’t wash up. So, really, if you fall in that 80%, then I’ve got your dick in my mouth, and if that’s what you were after…” She slides her eyes down his body, bites her lip. “Well. I need a bit more than a magically refilling drink.”
GM: “Let’s try just more drinks, then,” the man replies in an amused tone. He orders two more sinners from the bartender. The other man mixes them up and slides them over.
Celia: Celia takes both of the drinks, sliding her old one to her new friend.
“Hate to see the magic go to waste. You put on such a show with it.”
GM: The man takes a long pull from the drink. “Better magic when it’s emptier, anyway.”
He takes another pull. Gets it down to about half.
He picks it up, does the same spins, the same rim smack to the bar, the same flip back up. There’s another wet spot, but the drink is full again.
Celia: Celia follows his lead.
This time, when he does the trick, she’s ready for it. She watches more carefully, eyes following his every move… and still has no idea how he did it when he sets it back down.
“Huh. So what’s the trick? And if you give me that line about magicians and secrets…” she leaves it hanging.
GM: “Every magician has to learn theirs from somewhere, don’t they?”
“You’re right that’s just a line. You just need to butter them up.”
Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind next time I meet someone impressive.” Her smile takes the sting from her words. She finishes her drink, looking at the second. There’s no possible way she can drink that and stay even moderately alert. “Y’think the bartender gets mad when you bring your own, or d’you tip him for the lost sale?”
GM: “That’d be the saint thing to do, but we’re not drinking saints, are we?”
Celia: “Ahh, we’ve come full circle. I think this means we’re at our close.”
GM: “Yes, the bartender’s eventually going to think I’m stealing from him, too.”
The man gets up and offers Celia his arm.
Celia: He’s persistent. It’s kind of cute. She swings around on her chair, rising to her feet. She takes his arms between her hands.
“Such a gentleman. Treat all your ladies like this?”
GM: “Just the cute ones,” he answers. He looks amused by how Celia handles his arm, but seems to run with it. He slips his other arm around her waist as he leads her out.
“I’m a thief, by the way. I steal things.”
Celia: “Stolen things taste better,” Celia tells him. “Anything good?”
GM: “Yes. They do,” her agrees.
He opens the door to a shamelessly flashy red sports car with black dice hanging from the mirror.
“I stole this.”
Celia: “Is it still hot? Should I practice my excuses for when we inevitably get pulled over?” She slides in, though.
GM: “Girls usually think it is,” the man smirks as he gets in and twists the keys.
“But I’ll magic us away if we run into cops.”
Celia: “Mmm, you knew what I meant, but thanks for answering my other question on how often you use it as a pickup.”
GM: The man drives.
“So I’m a thief, what are you?”
Celia: “Dancer,” she tells him, because it’s halfway true, and it’s who she wants to be right now.
“Do you have a name, Mister Thief?”
GM: “Chase. Do you have one too, Miss Dancer?”
Celia: “Cici. But if you’re into calling me ‘miss,’ I guess I could make it work.”
Her eyes move to the window, then back to his face. “Are we going back to your secret lair of stolen goods?”
GM: “Yep. You’re the latest one,” he smirks.
Celia: “Do you count me as stolen? I think I got into the car of my own volition. Unless you magicked that, too.”
GM: “I stole you away from that other guy in the bar giving you eyes. Everyone’s a thief in their own way.”
Celia: Other guy? She hadn’t noticed another guy.
“Was he cuter than you? Maybe you should take me back.”
GM: “Too late, you’re stolen. I bet he’s already stealing some other girl right now.”
Celia: “His loss. There was only one prize there tonight.”
GM: “A good thief always knows the best thing to steal.”
They don’t drive for too long long. Chase takes her back to a swanky if somewhat gaudy apartment. The kind that’s filled with expensive things to fill space: lots of leather furniture. An enormous flatscreen TV and sound system. Some kitschy art. Wall-to-ceiling illustrations of palm trees on a sunny beach. There’s also a handsome man on the couch making out with a woman in a slinky club dress.
“Don’t mind us,” Chase says to the hungrily engaged couple. “You want anything else to drink, Cici?”
Celia: She isn’t so sure that she believes his claim of thief until he shows her the apartment. Her eyes take it in, every ostentatious piece of furniture and electronics. Even the rug looks expensive, if tacky, and Celia—used to more refined taste—spots it for what it is.
Desperation. The need to fit in. To be accepted.
It’s like a perfume clinging to his entire apartment. It follows her in, past the couple on the couch—also tacky—and into the kitchen where she watches him ready the drink she’d asked for. Bourbon. Neat. With a drop of distilled or spring water, if he has it. Cici seems like the kind of girl to drink bourbon.
GM: Chase purs two and slides them over the kitchen’s granite top island. They drink a bit, then he starts making out with her.
Celia: It’s not the same. It’s not the same when she isn’t into him, when he’s just a stranger in a bar. His goatee tickles her skin, and it’s not bad, but he doesn’t taste like absinthe and weed and dinner. Still, she lets him push her back against the counter, lets him lift her onto it with her knees on either side of his waist. Cici is bold. She has his shirt off before she even realizes she’s reached for it.
GM: The man’s pants come off soon, too, along with Cici’s clothing. The cold countertop isn’t comfortable, but Chase seems into it. There’s something transgressive about doing this with another couple so nearby.
The sex is mind-blowingly good. Chase teases and touches her in all the right places in all the right ways. He might actually give her mom a run for her money at flexibility. Cici feels like she’s on fire. Stephen’s touch seems almost clumsily amateurish by way of comparison.
Celia: Celia comes apart in his arms. Undone. She thought alcohol lowered her inhibitions enough to follow this stranger home. She knows now it was just him. Her previously-held notions of him fly out the window when he touches her. By the time they’re done, she is a quivering mess of nerves and satisfaction. She isn’t quiet. Cici isn’t a quiet girl. Cici doesn’t mind that the other couple might hear her, that they might judge her. Cici doesn’t follow rules, so she doesn’t care. Even the counter, digging into her in all the wrong ways, is not enough to pull her from euphoric bliss when it’s over. On fire, indeed. Every single bit of her. Everywhere he touched.
She wants to say something when it’s done. ‘Wow’ or ‘fuck’ or some other epitaph that will get her meaning across, but none seem fitting, and his ego is large enough. She just leans back on the counter instead, head resting against a cabinet, and thinks it to herself.
Wow. Fucking wow.
GM: Chase might say something.
Then it all crashes down like a hammer blow. The almost consecutive 24 hours she’s been awake. The injuries. The stress. The fear. The guilt. All those drinks she had. All that sex she just had.
Celia’s out like a light.
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, AM
GM: Celia wakes up. She’s in a waterbed, if the bouncy feel is any indication. She feels almost as exhausted as she did when she passed out. Actually, she feels even more exhausted. Her eyelids are like visors.
She hears voices in the distance.
“How could you do this in my place?” Male.
“It’s his fault.” Female.
“You always say that.” Male.
“I told him we were done. He couldn’t take no for an answer.” Female.
“So it isn’t your fault.” Male.
“He was a scumbag.” A pause. “Too bad, though. He was cute.” Female.
“Well I’m so fucking happy he was a scumbag.” Male.
“Aren’t you?” Female.
“Yes. Così fottutamente felice!” Male.
“You’ve got spaghetti in your mouth again.” Female.
“What? You can’t tell from this delighted face how fucking happy I am? For this to happen in my fucking place?” Male.
“You’re so much less sexy when you’re mad.” Female.
Celia: Waterbed. Do people still have waterbeds? Maybe she went back in time. Voices drift toward her from the other room. Chase. She recognizes his voice. Is this his bed? He put her to bed? That’s sweet.
Until it hits her that she’s sober. That she left Em’s house and picked up a guy at the bar—or rather, let him pick up her. With magic tricks. A thief. He’s a thief. Stolen car. She has a boyfriend.
He fucked her on the counter.
And it was good.
Is her face red? She’s sure that it’s red. She doesn’t sit up, not yet, but she cracks her eyes to look around the room.
GM: It’s similar to the rest of the house. There’s a zebra print rug along the floor, bright red drapes, a second flatscreen TV in front of the bed. Several retro lava lamps and ‘80s modern art paintings look decidedly at odds with neoclassical statues and paintings. Assorted expensive-looking clothes and dollar bills are thoughtlessly strewn over the floor. So are Celia’s clothes, a pack of playing cards, some golden dice, a pair of handcuffs, and a handgun.
It’s tacky and completely unashamed of what it is.
“Oh, looking sexy for you. That’s exactly what I fucking want to do right now.” Male.
Celia: Oh. There’s her dress. And panties. And a gun. Her gun?
GM: It looks like a different gun.
“We could clean this up in half the time it’s taken you to bitch about it.” Female.
Celia: She sits up. Her eyes slide toward the door. She goes about getting up as quietly as she can, aware that her arm and welt-covered ass are doing her very little favors in that department. She reaches for her clothing.
The handcuffs catch her eye. Cop? Or sex toy? Cici would know. But Cici isn’t real, and Celia doesn’t know.
She pads toward the door, sans clothing… and stops at the mention of cleaning.
Cleaning. Scumbag. Do this in my place.
Oh my god is there a body out there?
She edges back toward the bed. There’s a dead body out there. Someone killed someone. That has to be it. Has to be. And any moment he’s going to remember the girl in his bed. And she saw all of their faces, all of them, and he’s going to… to… oh my god oh my god oh my god.
She doesn’t want to die. She presses a hand over her own mouth to keep her breathing quiet. She reaches for her clothing. Maybe the window? Fire escape? But then he’ll come after her. And catch her. And throw her over his shoulder and—stop it.
Go back to bed. Right? Pretend to sleep? So he can come in and murder her while she’s helpless.
Her brain spins. She searches for her phone.
GM: She finds it with her purse, which looks like it’s been rummaged through. Chase didn’t even bother to put her ID back in her wallet after taking it out.
“We wouldn’t have to clean this up if you hadn’t lost your shit! I hate doing this!” Male.
“My god, you can steal the glasses off somebody’s nose, bu-” Female.
“You clean this up! It’s not my fucking problem!” Male.
Celia: Oh my god he knows who I am.
She doesn’t bother searching it. He can keep the cash, she can cancel her cards. She reaches for her clothing, pulling the dress over her head, and slides the panties up her legs. She eyes the gun. After a second of hesitation she reaches for that, too.
Window or door? Not that it’s any good. He knows who she is. He’s going to come after her. But she didn’t do anything. Or see anything. Or hear anything. Right? She can play stupid. She’s so very, very good at playing stupid. She silences her phone, just in case, and moves to the window to check for a way down.
GM: Celia sees a rickety-looking fire escape.
Because you are stupid, whispers her dad’s voice.
“It’s in your living room. By my count, that does make it your fucking problem.” Female.
“Because of you!” Male.
Celia: Fire escape. Better than a handful of scarves, right? She opens the window.
GM: It’s awkward to manage with one hand, but no more than getting dressed was. The window slides open.
“Did you hear that?” asks the female voice.
Celia doesn’t linger. She squeezes through the window until she is outside on the fire escape.
Please don’t break please don’t break please don’t break.
She tucks the gun into her purse, clutching it with her good hand just in case. She starts down the stairs as quietly as she can manage.
GM: “Oh, great. Another loose end.” Male.
“So whose fucking problem is this?” Female.
The rickety metal stairs creek under Celia’s feet.
“Your toy from earlier?” Female.
“Probably.” Male. “Race you.”
“How big a head start should we give her?” Female.
“Ten seconds. I don’t want her to get too far.” Male.
“She had a broken arm.” Female.
“A broken arm isn’t a broken leg.” Male.
“Your intellect knows no bounds. She still had to get the window open, genius.” Female.
“Come on, this is getting fun again.” Male.
“Fine, ten seconds from now.” Female.
“You’re so hot when you get that look.” Male.
Celia: She’s dead. She knows it. One mistake and she’s dead.
She slows her breathing as best she can, makes a mental tally of her options: give up and die. Jump over the fire escape and break her legs and die. Open this window and alert them to the fact that she’s here and die. Call out to them and die.
She slides her hand into her purse. Her fingers close around the bottle of foundation she keeps there for on-the-go touchups. It’s full. Heavy. It’ll make a loud noise when she throws it, and the glass will explode. Maybe they’ll go right past her. How? There’s only one way down, stupid.
Maybe if it was just one of them. Maybe if it was just him.
“Chase,” she calls up.
She closes her eyes. Waits half a second.
“That’s your name, yeah? What if you show me how you got that name. Just you. Teams isn’t fair, you know.”
GM: “We aren’t racing you, we’re racing each other,” Chase calls down. “I’m sorry, but you don’t have a chance.”
Celia: “So, so more time? No shoes, sounds like a minute-worthy head start.”
GM: “Oh, moxie,” purrs the woman. “That’s fun.”
Celia: “I don’t stand a chance anyway, right?”
Oh my god I’m going to die.
GM: “I’ll chase her. I’m in heels, that should make it sporting.” The woman.
Celia: “His toy, though.”
GM: “Too bad, you’re mine now.” The woman.
“Heels doesn’t make it sporting.” Chase.
“She thinks so.” The woman.
“She didn’t say that.” Chase.
Celia: “I agree with Chase.” She raises her voice to cover the sound of her steps.
GM: “She’s getting away.” Chase.
There’s a crashing noise from above.
“You’re starting shit over this?” Chase.
“I said she’s mine.” The woman.
“What the fuck is she to you?” Chase.
“I’m not repeating myself. We can’t even have fun without you bitching about it.” The woman.
“Fine, go catch her if it makes you happy.” Chase.
Celia: “No balls,” she calls up. And bolts.
GM: Her foot catches on a stair. She trips and sprawls into waiting arms.
Her ‘rescuer’ is tall even without heels. She’s dark-skinned and long-haired, with a slender but curvaceous build. The woman’s eyes glitter with amusement as she holds Celia close. She leans in to sniff the college girl’s hair like she’s inhaling a bouquet.
“Mmm, don’t you smell… exciting. What’s your perfume, little girl?”
She runs a long-nailed hand along Celia’s cheek.
“Scream, by the way, and you’ll wish you’d never been born.”
Celia: She hadn’t even heard her. Hadn’t seen her. But there she is, a shadow in front of her. Some sort of twisted knight in shining armor that kept her from toppling down the stairs.
She isn’t sure that she prefers this to a broken neck.
“Sycomore,” she finds herself saying. “It just came out.” She’s a little breathless. She believes the threat, so she doesn’t scream. “I—I have a bottle in my purse. For you. For winning your race.”
GM: “I didn’t win. He didn’t run,” says the woman.
“She means against her,” calls Chase.
“That doesn’t count,” sniffs the woman. She hefts Celia up in her arms like she’s a six-year-old, one arm around her back and the other under her legs. She carries Celia up the rickety fire escape like she weighs nothing.
She doesn’t even seem bothered to be doing so in sky-high club heels.
Celia: “Best two out of three?” Celia offers. “Flat ground, maybe, I could find some shoes. We could wait until my arm isn’t broken.” Her heart thuds in her chest.
GM: The woman gives no response to the offer. Chase is waiting to gallantly take Celia’s hand in his and help her through the window. The woman pushes Celia through by her back. Chase takes the woman’s hand too. She doesn’t clamber through the window so much as slide through it. She’s all long legs and languid grace that doesn’t seem to find any of the process awkward. She hefts Celia back up in her arms and pats her head.
“You’ve been a bad girl, snooping like you did.”
Chase closes the window. “How much did you hear?”
“She heard enough to make a break for it,” the woman says as they walk back into the living room.
The coppery odor is strong from a distance and overwhelming up close. The man from last night is slumped over one of the expensive rugs, face-down. The rug is very wet and very red. The man does not move.
The woman sits down on the sofa and sets Celia on her lap. She nuzzles the back of Celia’s head and licks her cheek.
“Oh, you are scared. I can taste it on you.”
“She’s a cute little toy,” the woman remarks to Chase. “You’ve always had good taste in toys.”
“I’ve always had good taste in everything,” the man smirks. He plops down on a nearby chair, kicking up his feet over the glass table.
Celia: Oh. Oh God. She was right. There’s a body. There’s a body and they caught her and they brought her back to the scene. This woman is carrying her like she weighs nothing, and she’s going to end up just like him. All she wanted was to forget her problems for a tiny minute at a bar with a stranger. Now she’s in the middle of a murder scene and there is blood everywhere and somewhere off in the distance she can hear her mother screaming and—
She thinks she might be sick. Her stomach flips. Ties itself in knots. And not for a good reason, like his hands on her or the counter or Em’s whisper in her ear.
“I heard—” she falters. “I just heard arguing.” There’s no point in lying, is there? “And ‘clean it up.’ And—and I thought, well, that’s my cue, I hate cleaning. Ha. Ha…”
Her laugh is thin. It cuts off abruptly. She can’t help the tremors in her hands.
“Just a… just a big misunderstanding. Ha. Whoops. But, hey, make sure you… you blot, don’t scrub, you know?”
GM: Chase laughs.
The woman laughs too.
“You’re so scared,” croons the woman. “A cute little toy like you shouldn’t be scared. You’re with friends. You should relax. You should be happy.”
She lifts up Celia’s dress and starts massaging her clit. The woman’s other hand pinches Celia’s nipples and kneads her breasts.
“Make happy noises, little toy.”
Celia: She can’t make happy noises. She’s exposed. Chase can see her. This woman whose name she doesn’t even know is touching her. They’re going to rape her and murder her and it’s the only thing she can think about.
She squeezes her eyes closed. She won’t cry. She won’t die crying. And she won’t be their toy, either. She won’t let them fuck her and strangle her and roll her up in the wet, red rug with that guy.
She bites her lip. Shakes her head.
GM: “Oh? Does that not feel good?” croons the woman.
“We just want you to relax. Wouldn’t it be nice to relax?”
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to be scared about anything? If you could just… be… happy?”
The woman’s touch is like lightning as her fingers continue to dextrously massage and pleasure Celia’s most intimate spots. She can feel the wetness between her legs, her nipples growing firm, and color rising to her cheeks.
“Just relax, little toy,” purrs the woman. “We don’t want to hurt you. We’d never want to hurt a cute and spunky little thing like you.”
“You’re so thoughtful, to give me some of your perfume like that. You smell so nice. You’ve got such a cute, doll-like little face.” She pinches Celia’s cheek, then re-pinches her nipples. She bounces Celia up and down on her knee like a toddler.
“We just want you to be happy. Make happy noises. Show us you’re a happy little toy.”
Celia: The woman knows what she’s doing. Celia lets her head drop back onto her shoulder, lips parted, thighs spreading. She makes the noises that the woman wants. She can’t help it. It’s a little sigh at first, then a very quiet gasp—just a sharp intake of breath. Then it’s something that’s somewhere between whimper and moan. Her cheeks burn. She keeps her eyes closed, as if that makes this all okay.
GM: “There we go,” the woman purrs in an almost proud voice. “I knew you could do it.”
She bounces Celia up and down in that toddler-like fashion, faster, then slides a finger up her vagina. The woman’s nails are very long. Celia might normally wince at that prospect, but she doesn’t feel anything cut her.
“There’s a happy little toy,” the woman smiles. Celia can hear it in her voice. “Can you nod for us? How happy you are?”
“Nod as fast as you can, to show us how happy you are.”
Celia: There is no getting lost in the moment for Celia. She can’t forget where she is or who she’s with. Or what is lying five feet from her. Or that those fingers inside of her belong to someone she doesn’t know.
If I make them happy by being happy, do I get out of this alive?
It’s the only thought on her mind. Her body betrays her. Tears leak from the corners of her eyes as she forces herself to nod, to nod fast, because that’s what this woman wants.
It’s a sight. A crying, humiliated Celia bobbing her head up and down as if it will keep her safe. Her legs spread to either side of this woman’s hand, her teeth digging into her lip to keep her from pleading with her to stop, please.
GM: The woman slips another finger up Celia’s vagina. She can feel the climax involuntarily building as the woman works back and forth, then gives a tsk.
“Oh, but you’re crying! I don’t think you’re relaxed after all, little toy. I’m so sorry. We just want you to be happy.”
She pulls out her fingers, stops massaging Celia’s breasts, stops bouncing her up and down. She touches a finger to Celia’s lips. She can smell her juices on the woman’s nails.
“Can you tell us? What would make you happy?”
Celia: There’s some small, primal part of her brain that misses the fingers as soon as they’re gone. She makes a sound—something like discontent—before she realizes what she’s doing.
What does she want? What will make her happy? It’s on the tip of her tongue to beg for her life. To ask them not to hurt her. Not to kill her. To cover her bases. But the woman’s voice from earlier cuts in. Moxie, that’s fun. And she’s dead anyway. She knows it. They know it. They’re just toying with her. They’re going to use her and kill her, and asking them not to won’t make it stop.
Whore, says a voice in her head. It’s easier to ignore this time. Easier to ignore as she turns, as if to whisper to the woman. She instead presses her lips against her cheek, then the corner of her mouth, then her lips fully. She extends a hand behind her, an open invitation to Chase.
If she’s going to go out, she might as well go out swinging.
GM: There’s a lusty growl from Chase as he rises from his chair. The woman doesn’t return her kisses so much as devour them. Her lips are as electric as her fingers. Her tongue hungrily collides against Celia’s. Chase’s hands knead her breasts like he did last night. The woman literally tears off her dress with a loud rip. Chase yanks out the cushion from beneath the two. Celia hits the rug-covered floor with a thump, sending a jolt of pain through her splint arm. The blood smells even stronger up close. The woman twists in mid-air and lands on her palms and haunches like a cat, actually growling. She throws Chase to the floor next to Celia and pounces on them both. She painfully cracking their heads together as her tongue darts in and out of one mouth to the next.
Chase kicks the woman’s legs out from under her. He grabs her wrists and pins her underneath him as he devours her face. Celia hears skin tearing and smells more blood.
The woman kisses Chase back, then kicks him in the balls. He gives a strangled scream as she throws him off, then tackles him to the ground under her, ripping his clothes as she does.
Celia: Her head throbs from where she’d been smacked against him.
Now seems like a good time to run. They’re distracted. Clawing at each other. Someone is bleeding. He bit her. Have they forgotten about her? Her dress is in tatters, though, and there is blood…. blood on her. Because the body is right next to her. She shifts away from it. Her head spins. She waits. Waits for the right moment to go. When he’s inside of her, maybe, and they’re consumed with each other.
GM: Chase punches the woman in the nose. Celia hears a gruesome crunch, then more blood spurting over his fists. She reels back as Chase grabs Celia and buries his face in her chest, tongue licking the flesh between her tits. The woman yanks him back away and smashes his head against the floor. There’s more blood.
The pair snarl and growl like beasts. They straddle each other, hungrily kissing , punching, tackling, kicking, biting. So much biting. Blood gets everywhere. Their clothes are soon reduced to tatters. It looks like they’re trying to kill each other—and like it turns them the hell on.
They never penetrate each other. They just hiss, kiss, and fight. They pull in Celia, a few times, but soon appear to forget about her. She simply can’t keep up. She’s never seen anything like this. It’s like watching rabid animals mate, not people.
But they have the minds of people, even if they have the instincts and savagery of animals. There’s no animal that would grab the corpse and force its fingers up Chase’s asshole like the woman does. Or that would shove its flaccid manhood up her pussy like Chase does.
They kick over the furniture. They smash the table. They shred the rug. The chemistry between the two is pure electric as they bloodily fuck out their bickering without fucking.
Celia: It’s the crunch that does her in. The sickening crunch that reminds her of that night six years ago. Her mom’s face hitting the floor. She reels backwards, scrambling to get out of their way, to avoid the mess, to avoid the bloodshed, to avoid them. Before she can get too far she’s dragged back in, spit back out. She can’t keep up, just another momentary toy. And then they reach for the corpse. Horror overwhelms her. She’s on her feet in a second, running toward the door.
There’s a pile next to the couch. Dark clothing, her purse. She snatches it all up on her way out the door. She doesn’t care whose it is or what it is, she’ll sort it out when she gets outside. The sounds of their violent fucking follows her out. She keeps running, not pausing until she is some distance away before she pulls on the jacket, slides the pants up her legs. It’s all too big.
She doesn’t care.
She just runs for her fucking life.
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, AM
Celia: She digs her phone out of her purse while she runs. Dials Em’s number. He’s the only one she trusts to be up at this time of night.
Emmett: Meanwhile, Em’s trying to sleep. He’s trying really hard to sleep. He’s trying super hard to sleep. He should sleep. There’s absolutely no reason to be awake, or alive, or even sentient. He’s facedown in the bed and everything.
But for some reason, it just isn’t taking.
Oh, well. Time for another line off his dresser.
Then his phone buzzes.
Okay, he can do that too.
Celia: Please pick up please pick up please pick up.
Emmett: He lets it ring a few times.
He doesn’t want to seem desperate.
Finishes his line.
Celia: She keeps running, casting a glance over her shoulder. There’s no answer. For too long. Is he asleep?
Emmett: Then he picks up. Like a moment before it would go to voicemail.
Celia: She almost cries in relief at his voice.
“Em, Em, I need you, please, help, there are these things—” none of it makes sense. Her words come out in a rush, tumbling over each other. Where is she?
GM: She looks like she’s in Faubourg Marigny. Actually not that distant from her mom’s apartment. It’s really late, though. There’s not even any partygoers out around the gay clubs anymore. Last call must have been some time ago at the bars. The city seems dead and asleep.
Emmett: “Wait, wait what. Where are you.”
He can hear the fan in the next room slicing through the air, shh-shhh-shhing. He thinks he can hear the dust bunnies under his bed fucking. He’s turned the light off, but everything’s still too bright.
“Things?” he asks, lamely.
Celia: “Marigny,” she gets out, somewhere amidst the chaos of the rest of what she’s spewing. “They killed someone, they killed him, there was a body, they’re going to kill me, they know who I am—” she struggles to breathe. “Please, Em.”
Emmett: “I’m coming,” he says, instantly. “Find me an intersection, I’ll tell you where to go and I’ll meet you in a car.”
He’s sprinting towards his door, grabbing keys to the car he bought as an impulse a month ago.
I don’t know if I’m fucked up enough for this.
Celia: Relief hits her. He’s coming. Even after tonight, he’s coming. She continues to run, clutching at her side with her broken arm. Her ass is on fire. She doesn’t care.
“Dauphine,” she gets out, “and Frenchman. There’s a—there’s a park.”
No one is out. She looks over her shoulder again. Just in case. Maybe she should find other people. A bar. A crowd. No, that’s what got her into this.
Emmett: “Get to that park and cross it. You should see Rampart. I’ll meet you there. Five minutes. You’ll make it. Okay?”
His engine turns over.
He knows these streets. He remembers the last time he drove them in the middle of the night, the other time things went completely to shit.
There was a screaming girl then, too.
Tonight won’t be like that.
He drives almost as fast as he thinks.
Celia: Cross the park. Look for Rampart. She doesn’t know what Rampart is, if it’s a street or a bar or a museum—hadn’t he had a thing for museums?—and even though he’s on his way she doesn’t think it will be in time. She presses the phone to her ear as if that will make him drive faster. She has to pause to catch her breath. Her eyes scan the streets. She still has the gun. The stolen gun. A hysterical giggle bubbles up and she presses her lips together to keep it trapped.
Emmett: He drives the empty streets, his phone on speaker in his lap. Beneath the starless sky, the city could belong to ghosts.
He talks to her as he drives. Asks her to describe where she is, asks about landmarks, tries to keep her calm.
It isn’t so long before his car rounds the corner, headlights bright and searching.
But it feels like a lifetime. Maybe hers.
Celia: She paces, jumping at every shadow, every noise. His chatter helps, but does little to calm the pounding of her heart. Any moment she expects to see the set of killers come around the corner to finish her off, and what’s her excuse this time? A pair of headlights swing past her and she’s a frozen silhouette until she sees Em behind the wheel. She doesn’t so much climb in as she does fall, tripping over her own feet in her haste to get in the car. She tells begs, really him to drive.
Emmett: He drives, and he drives fast.
When they’re inside he walks her to the couch, the same one they sprawled over just hours ago.
Celia: She doesn’t remember the drive back to his place, or getting into his house. She doesn’t say anything until they’re securely locked inside and he can see, for the first time, her wide, rolling eyes, unkempt hair, swollen lips. Her face is striped with tear tracks that cut through her foundation, black streaks of mascara, and something red. An ill-fitting man’s suit jacket is hanging off of her shoulders, and even though she holds it closed with one hand and a press of her arms, it still gapes open at her stomach. There’s nothing underneath. The pants threaten to slide down her legs with every step, and her bare feet poke out from the bottom. She smells like sex and blood and fear.
She can’t even get the words out.
Emmett: He looks her over once, his pupils too big again. There’s some muted shock and concern in his eyes, but what might strike Celia the most is the resigned familiarity of his expression.
This has happened before.
You’re bad seed, says Ron’s voice.
He starts a kettle boiling for tea. He almost never drinks it himself, but its good to have.
He sits down with her on the couch, listens to her trying to explain.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m really sorry.”
For hurting you. For making you walk into a real horror movie.
Detective Em, to the rescue.
“I have—there’s a shower.”
“Some panties and a dress and stuff, for—you know.”
She can wear his whoring clothes, he doesn’t say.
He makes sure she sees him lock the door, and draw a heavy deadbolt across it.
Celia: She doesn’t know how to explain. She lets him lead her around, over to the couch, clutches the mug of tea between her hands. Draws her knees up to her chest. Her shoulders hunch inward, folding under the blows of the evening.
“They killed him,” she finally gets out. “And they they wanted to there was blood everywhere, so much blood, and they were yelling, and I went out the window, and she pulled me back in, and they tried to she touched me.”
Her body shudders. There’s more that’s unsaid. She can’t get the words right.
“It’s his suit,” she looks down at it, eyes wide, “he’s dead and I took it and he was on the couch and there was so much blood.”
Emmett: “Okay,” he says. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.”
Murder. Rape. Bodies. All of it so, so familiar.
“Where… where did things go wrong?” he asks. “We don’t have to talk about it, if it hurts to. Or you can. I… I’m so sorry I made you leave.”
Maybe she can blame him. That might make her feel better.
Celia: Safe. She’s not safe. They know who she is. They saw her ID.
She tells him that. Tells him that she can’t go home, that they went through her purse, that they saw her license, her address, her real name. She can’t go to her mom’s. Her dad’s. The dorm. Loose end, they’d called her.
She doesn’t want to tell him about the bar. About sleeping with him. But she does, slowly, her words fragmented at best. Bar. Drinks. Magic tricks. Stolen car. Sex. God, the sex. She downplays the sex, but it’s there on her face: how good it was. Falling asleep, then waking up in his bed. The argument, gun, handcuffs. Her flight down the stairs.
“I j-just wanted to be Cici.”
Try on something new. Like a mask. And it had gone well… until it hadn’t.
“He bit her. Like… animals. Clawing. Biting.”
Blood. So much blood.
“They fucked the dead guy.”
Emmett: He pours himself a drink as she talks. And one for her, too, when she’s done with the tea.
A part of him, absurdly, irrationally, finds himself growing jealous as she talks about the sex. But the jealousy is nothing next to the guilt. Nothing.
“I know,” he says when she talks about wanting to be somebody else. “I know. God, do I know. I’m so sorry, Cici.”
Em doesn’t have anything to say about the biting. The descriptions. The necrophilia. What is there to say?
But he recognizes that, too.
Poison eyes stare at him from the bottom of his glass.
“There are… things,” he tells her. “In this city. That don’t make sense. That are evil. I mean, I’m a little evil, maybe, but they’re… they’re monsters. It isn’t in your head. I’m sorry, C.”
GM: Poison eyes.
And a woman’s high, fluttering laughter.
Celia: Monsters. She knows monsters. The thing in the darkness with her dad’s voice. The simulacrum that isn’t a real man, just an approximation of one. The arms around her from behind.
She closes her eyes. She doesn’t want it to be real. It can’t be real. What he’s talking about it can’t exist. Monsters. Ghosts. No.
She downs her drink. Doesn’t taste it, doesn’t ask what it is, doesn’t care. It’s gone. It helps, but only a little, because she can still feel the hands on her, their laughter. Make happy noises.
Rape. That’s what that was. The word is ugly and she’s ugly now, too. She wipes at her face.
“Shower?” She needs to get out of this clothing. To get rid of the blood. To let the water scald her until she’s clean again.
She’ll never be clean again.
She follows his direction to the bathroom, strips from the dead man’s clothing, turns the water on until steam fills the small room. She’s afraid to be alone, afraid that they followed her here, that they’ll yank back the curtain and find her naked or she’ll come out to see Em dead on the couch. Fucking his corpse. And she’ll know that she did that, too, that she lead them right to him.
She comes out with just a towel. The blood is gone. Her face is bare. She can still smell it, though, the coppery tang. Wet hair drips down her back. She rejoins him on the couch, picks up her refilled drink, knocks it back, and reaches for the bottle.
“Tell me,” she says, “about the monsters.”
Emmett: “Go easy, okay?” Em tells her. He’s sitting where he was before, but he looks like he’s been thinking. He also does not look like he’s been following his own advice. “And… I don’t know a lot. I just know that I’ve met one, or maybe two, before. And that they can… do things.”
He’s quiet for a moment. “The reason I wanted to send you to Cécilia’s mother… she’s not human. She told me so, herself once. And she did things… I think she’s the reason Miranda’s in a wheelchair, because I asked her to look at a diary I had stolen from Cécilia. She’s not human, but she… she looks out for her family. She was willing to help me, when it looked like I was a good boyfriend for her daughter, even though she knew who I was.” He swallows. “And… one night, a little after…”
But he hasn’t ever talked about that night. And he isn’t sure he wants to now.
“I did bad things,” he whispers. “And a monster came, and she helped me undo them. But I had to kill somebody to do it. They’re sick. Turned on by, by pain. Death. Blood. All of it. I don’t know what they are. But I think they’re powerful. The second one, she had connections with cops. Mobsters.”
Celia: It can’t be real. It can’t be. She listens, and as she listens her curiosity turns to wonder, then to dread. Turned on by pain, death, blood.
Her eyes close. She knew. She knew, shew knew, she knew. She breathes in deeply, sharply, because that’s all she can do, because somewhere someone is screaming and her ears are ringing and she knew.
Monsters are real, Celia, and they know where you live.
“When I was a kid,” she tells him, “my sister said there was a monster under her bed.” But he wasn’t under her bed. He was downstairs, with Daddy. “He came back the night—the attack.” She presses her palms into her eyes. “There was blood. And screaming. And he he put me in bed, and told me…”
Told her it was all okay. But it wasn’t okay.
“What am I supposed to do? What are we supposed to do?” Her voice is small. She’s just a kid again, looking up at the thing in the darkness with her father’s voice. The thing that has been in her dreams for years. The thing that pressed a gun into her hands and told her it was the only way out.
“Clothes,” she repeats absently, nodding. Shirt, yes, she’d like a shirt, pants.
Emmett: He looks at her, all washed clean but somehow still dirty from everything. The towel wrapped around her. Her eyes, too dangerous to look into in case they see too much of him.
“I have clothes,” he says again. “I can get them for you.”
Celia: His words take a moment to sink in. She lowers her hands, looking to him with wide eyes. He killed someone? He killed someone. He’s a… he’s a murderer. Or a monster? Is that how he knows so much?
She swallows hard. The lump in her throat barely moves. Her mouth is dry.
“Y-you… you killed…?”
Emmett: “Yeah,” he says as he comes back from his room with folded bundles in his arms. “I did. My cousin. Because he did something I couldn’t live with. It was… it was a bad night.”
He sounds resigned to her horror, resigned to her disgust, as he sets the offerings down.
There’s a dress, which she recognizes from the picture she showed him at their first meeting, all that time ago when things were so much simpler. The one his client liked to fuck him in. It’s been well cared for, and doesn’t look like it’s been worn for a few weeks. There’s a set of panties and a bra, too, though he realizes lamely as he sets them down he has no idea if they’ll fit her. If she doesn’t want those, he also brings his own clothes. An old, clean-smelling Brother Martin’s sweatshirt. Boxers. Sweatpants. Maybe unstylish, but comfortable. Safe-feeling.
He waits a moment after putting it all down, then realizes he probably should have sent her to his room with the clothes there already.
“I’ll, um, go in my room. Just knock, when you’re ready.”
Celia: He killed his cousin. The words are like a hammer blow to her already fragile psyche. He killed his cousin. Dead. A man is dead because of Em. And when things got tough, he was the one she ran to. Twice. Is he laughing at her? Stupid, stupid Celia running right into the arms of a murderer.
She waits for him to walk away before she pulls the sweatshirt and pants on. Nothing she would normally wear, and they swallow up her small frame, but the clothes don’t belong to a dead man. Just a killer. She thinks that might be better, maybe.
It’s Em, she tells herself. She plays his words over in her mind, things he’s said, the way he clearly hates himself. Guilt. Remorse. Shame. He had to do it, to fix whatever else he’d done.
She hangs the towel back in the bathroom on her way to his door, knocks twice, lets herself in.
“He had handcuffs. In his room. The… the thing.” Cops, he’d said. “I took his gun.”
Cops and mobsters.
“My boyfriend—” she tries not to flinch. Stephen. “—his family has a thing with the Mafia. He’s being stalked. A girl. D’you think…?”
Emmett: “I don’t know,” he says simply. “Just… don’t know.”
“I know you’re scared to go home right now. You can stay here as long as you need to. Or with your boyfriend, if you can. I would… I would really, really consider calling Cécilia. Telling her what happened to you. Trust her. If you were close to her, and she’s the person I knew her to be… she’ll want to help you. You can just tell her about the abuse, if you like, or the monsters. I don’t know how much she knows about what her mother is. I just… there’s a lot I don’t know. I wish I could help you more.”
He sits on his bed, a single tear drying halfway down his face. “Everything I touch turns to shit. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Celia: “That was my next question,” she admits, “about Cécilia.” How will she bring it up? Hey so I heard your mother is a monster.
She watches him for a moment, her jaw tight. He’s not a monster. She knows it, deep in her gut. He’s just like her. Hurting. She crosses the room to sit beside him. For half a second she remembers the way he’d turned her down earlier, and she hesitates, but in the end she reaches out. She tugs him toward her.
“This,” she says to him, “is not your fault.”
Emmett: “I scared you away,” he whispers, as he collapses under the accumulated weight of his intoxication and stress, lets himself be tugged limply into her embrace. “I made you go. I’m sorry.”
He ends up hugging her, almost clinging to her. “I didn’t want to hurt you. But I hurt everyone.”
Celia: “You also came to get me,” she points out quietly. She runs her fingers through his hair, pressing his face against her chest. There’s nothing sexual about it. “You came to get me when I called. They would have found me. I’d be dead. You saved me.”
Emmett: His breathing steadies slowly over a minute or two of her consoling him, and he blinks away the tears he doesn’t have a right to in the first place.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay, yeah, I, I’m too fucked up for for this. Let’s… let’s wait for the day. Safer then. And then you can go home, and figure things out. I don’t have much I can do for you. But I’m here. And anything I have, is yours.”
Celia: Celia kisses his cheek. It’s platonic. There’s no flutter in her stomach anymore, not after this evening. She admits, quietly, that she doesn’t want to sleep alone, and asks if he’d mind if she slept in here with him, promising that she isn’t going to try anything, that she just… thinks they could both use the company.
Emmett: He agrees, He doesn’t want to be alone either.
There’s no sex to it, their huddled warmth under the blankets, their arms and legs and PJs mingling. Just two frightened children hoping the monsters won’t find them tonight.
But for all that, it isn’t bad.