Sunday morning, 16 November 2003
GM: Celia’s dad wakes her up the next morning. He’s thrilled to have won the Senate election; did she hear the results? He laughingly calls her “sleepyhead,” but treats her to breakfast in bed. Anything for his little princess.
It’s buttermilk blueberry pancakes. They’re fat, fluffy, hot off the girdle and singed a light golden brown. Half-melted butter and drizzled maple syrup complete the essentials to any pancake breakfast.
They still have church later, but he’s woken her up early so she’ll have plenty of time to lounge in bed and enjoy breakfast.
Celia: Pancakes. Like last time. She remembers.
“Thanks, Daddy.” She searches his face as he sets it before her, looking for signs of… something. “Congratulations on the win,” she says, “I’m so proud of you.” And she is, isn’t she? This is what their family went through the ringer for. This is why he took everything from her, the pressure that Mom said he was under…
“Is Mom up?”
GM: Celia’s dad smiles at her initial words, but then frowns. It’s not an angry frown. It’s a very sad one.
“Sweetie, I have some bad news.”
“Mom isn’t going to be part of our family anymore.”
Celia: The fork pauses halfway to her mouth.
GM: “There’s no easy way to put this,” her dad sighs. “But you’re old enough to know the truth.”
“Your mom has… been having an affair, with Bill Roberts.”
He was the rival Democratic candidate.
“And has been passing his campaign information from ours. I’m frankly surprised we were even able to still win.”
Celia: “Oh.” Celia sets the fork down on the plate, blueberry pancake with it. “She was… spying on us? On everyone?” The betrayal is sharp. She remembers the time her mother held her down while her father spanked her, then blamed the election. Had she been the cause of that? Had he know, even then? Suspected? Was that why he had been so angry? And her mother had known and… and let him do that to her? Helped, even, then bought her off with concealer and a sparkly shirt.
“What about us? Isabel and David and Sophia and Logan and I? What happens to us?”
GM: “You’re all going to stay with me,” her dad answers. “I could file charges for what she did. But I’m not going to do that, in return for her not contesting the divorce or trying to get custody of you.”
“It’s better for everyone if this stays out of the papers. You and your siblings don’t need to be harassed by the media.”
Celia: “Are you going to tell them?” she asks him. The implication is clear: is this our little secret?
GM: Her dad shakes his head.
“Eventually. Maybe. But they aren’t old enough to know yet.”
Yes. It is.
Celia: “Oh. Right.” That makes sense. “What about school? And the house? Are we staying here?” Here, where monsters tuck her in at night. Her hands shake; she curls her fingers in the blankets on her bed.
“Where is she going? Is she here?”
GM: Her dad smiles and takes her hand. “Of course we’re staying here, sweetie. This is home. You’ll still go to McGehee.”
“The only thing that’s going to be different is not seeing your mom’s ballet shows. She isn’t here. She’s not coming back. She’s going to find somewhere else to live.”
He squeezes her hand reassuringly.
“I’m not going to let this break up our family.”
Celia: “And… and nothing bad will happen to us, right?”
GM: “Never, sweetie,” her dad answers adamantly.
“I won’t let it.”
Celia: “Do you promise?”
GM: Celia’s dad lifts up her purity ring from the bedside table, slips it onto her fingers, then kisses those same fingers.
“I promise, Celia. I won’t let anything bad happen to you. Ever. Anything bad coming our family’s way will have to go through me first.”
Celia: Celia nods. She wants to believe him.
“I love you, Daddy.”
GM: Her dad hugs her close.
“I love you too, Celia.”
“More than anything.”
Sunday afternoon, 16 November 2003
GM: Church services with her siblings go well. They have a ‘family meeting’ afterwards. Dad tells them a sanitized version: Mom doesn’t want to be part of the family anymore. She’s no longer in love with him, or them. She’s leaving. They’ll stay in the house. They’ll stay in the same schools. It’ll all stay the same.
Just without her.
They don’t take it well. Celia’s youngest siblings cry.
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything to her siblings about the real reason that Mom left. She keeps it to herself. Her secret. Dad’s secret. But when Sophia and Logan begin to cry she knows, as the oldest, that she has to do something. She scoops the child onto her lap, bouncing her knees, and pulls Sophia close beside her.
“It’s okay,” she says to them. “It’s gonna be okay.”
GM: Celia’s siblings sniff and cuddle against her. Dad hugs them all and proclaims how Celia is the “lady of the house,” now.
Isabel is the only one who doesn’t need comfort. She gushes to Dad how much she loves him. How he won big, with the election. How much she loves him, again. He hugs the 12-year-old back. He tells them they’ll get through this.
It’s still a glum afternoon. Dad has to leave the house: there’s work to be done for the senator-elect. The housekeeper looks after them. Celia is working on homework in her bedroom when she gets a call on her cellphone. The caller ID reads ‘Mom.’
She can pick up. Hear whatever Mom wants to say.
Or she can trust Dad.
Celia: Celia glances toward the open door of her bedroom. She closes it before she returns to her desk and the ringing phone, staring down at the caller ID. She takes a breath, then flips open the phone.
GM: “This is Celia Flores?” asks an unfamiliar woman’s voice.
GM: “My name is Dr. Crawford. I am the physician who is treating your mother.”
GM: “Medical doctor. Your mother is a patient at Tulane Medical Center.”
Celia: “Wait, what happened to my mom?”
GM: “That is something I will leave for her to explain. Your mother was in very bad condition, but she is currently stable. She would like to see you.”
Celia: “At Tulane Medical. She’s okay, though? When was she brought in? What happened?” she asks again, as if the answer will change.
GM: “Your mother is stable. She will be discharged in good health, eventually. I will leave it for her to explain what happened to you,” Dr. Crawford repeats.
“We normally do not notify next of kin about their relatives’ hospitalizations in this manner, but your mother was very insistent, and I felt moved to sympathy for her. She did not wish for your father to be contacted.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t know what to say. She nods. Her mom is hurting. In the hospital. Going through divorce. Cheating on her dad. Selling secrets.
But she’s still Mom.
“Can you… can you ask her if she needs anything from home?”
GM: “I am sorry, but your mother is not always understandable, and I have other patients to see to. I would suggest you bring whatever objects you think would most comfort her. Patients tend to feel better with familiar objects from home.”
Celia: “Oh. Right. Thank you for calling. I’ll be by shortly.”
How long would Dad be gone? Where had he gone? She’ll have to come up with an excuse as to what to tell the housekeeper, something with homework should do… with that in mind she grabs her bag, empties it of school supplies, and sneaks down the hall to her parent’s bedroom to find something to take her mom. Clothing? Knickknacks? Photos, maybe, and some of her jewelry, and that music box, and her scarf… Is Dad going to let her back inside the house to get her stuff?
GM: Celia is left to ponder that question as she offers her excuse, shows her ID to the Blackwatch guards by the gate, and takes the bus down to TMC. An overworked-looking receptionist tiredly provides her with directions to her mother’s room in ICU.
It smells like the alcoholic sort of cleanliness only hospitals have. Like they’re soaked in hand sanitizer. It’s not a comforting smell.
Celia’s mother lies motionless in a hospital bed. She’s wearing a ventilator over her face and has an IV stabbing through her arm. Adjacent machinery beeps sporadically.
She looks horrible. Her face is a black, blue, and purple mass of bruises, and her eyes look almost too swollen to see through. Half of her arms and legs are in casts and splints. A TV plays Jeopardy reruns in the background.
“A baryon is a particle made of three of these which come in flavors including charm and strange.”
“What are… quarks!”
Tinny applause sounds from the televised audience.
Celia: Celia freezes in the doorway. This has to be a mistake. The person in this bed cannot be her mother. But this was the room she’d been directed to. And that was her mother’s hair.
“Mom?” She steps into the room. There is hardly any part of this beaten, broken mass of human that is safe for her to touch. Her eyes water and she wipes at them. She won’t cry. Not now. Not here.
GM: The bruised head slowly tilts towards hers.
There’s that exaggerated, almost Darth Vader-like breathing through the ventilator.
Then tears start to leek from the swollen eyes.
Celia: “Mom.” The word is a pained exhale. She drops her bag onto the chair and leans over her mother, trying to find some way to offer comfort. But hugging will displace the tubes. “Momma, I’m here. It’s Celia. I’m here.” She wants to ask what happened, but she doesn’t think her mom can even talk.
GM: The broken figure’s half-visible eyes slowly follow Celia as she leans over.
“I… m… s… or… ry…” she wheezes.
Celia: “Why, Momma? What… what happened? Dad said you’re leaving…”
GM: “I… pr… mised… ge… bet… er…”
Celia: It’s an effort to hold back the tears. Watching her mother struggle to talk, no matter the anger that had coiled so tightly in her belly early this morning, breaks her heart. She is no monster.
“It will get better. It will. I’ll…”
What? What will you do, Celia, at fourteen years old with your life crumbling around you?
“I’ll keep them safe.”
From Daddy. From the monster who makes even Daddy cry, who tucks her into bed at night. And each time there’s blueberry pancakes in the morning. How often had he been there? Her head is reeling, mind spinning in too many different directions. How many plates of blueberry pancakes in bed?
“Did you … fall?” she asks her mom. She tastes the lie as she asks. Her own body hurts, an echo of last night’s pain, the thing that was all in her head, the thing she had imagined. Her mind rebels against going down that path before she can fully grasp the thought. Not real, not real, not real.
“What happened?” She has to know. If she hears her mom say it, admit it, that’s proof. Proof the thing was in their house. Proof her nightmare, that time she saw blood, Isabel’s budding distance, is not just in her head.
GM: But the question is a terrible one, in the memories it must surely conjure, and all the implications that could burst forth like the insides of a rotten fruit. Her mom’s eyes are suddenly in a distant, faraway place, and Celia is left to wonder and wonder and wonder.
“I… can… t… da… nce… an…. more…”
Celia: Celia’s eyes dart towards her mother’s legs. Broken. Wrapped so heavily in splints and gauze and whatever else that she only knows them from their position on the body. The scent of blood hits her, her mother’s screams fill her ears, the dull thwack of her face on the floor. Bile rises up her throat. She swallows it down.
“Mom, of course you’ll dance again.” The lie is blueberries and maple syrup. “It’s just a break, right? Just a… you fell?” They both fell. Please, God, please, just a fall. “You’ll do, um… therapy. Daddy will get you a good therapist for your leg…”
But Daddy won’t, Celia knows, and the knowledge sits heavy in her gut. Her family is broken, as broken as her mother’s body.
GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t say anything in response to that. The lie might be blueberries and maple syrup, but you can’t eat those with a ventilator over your face, and maybe it wouldn’t be medically advisable anyways. Her still-wet eyes seem to glaze over for a moment before she croaks past the medical equipment’s steady beeping,
Celia: “Of… of course, Momma…” Celia leans in, looking for a safe place to hold her mother. She waits until her face is hidden in her mother’s hair to let the tears slip from beneath her lids.
GM: They can look for hiding places all they like. Find the cleverest ones on earth.
But the tears will always still flow.
Tuesday afternoon, 25 November 2003
GM: The next weeks at the Flores household have a grim mood as everyone tries to move past what’s happened. Celia’s father believes in as clean a break as possible. True to his adage on not doing anything by half-measures, he gathers up all of her mother’s things—clothes, shoes, books, jewelry, the newly cut-out parts of family photos, everything else that isn’t reclaimable for the larger family’s use, even favorite movies and furniture—and dumps it all in the trash.
It’s the threat that was never carried out to burn Celia’s entire wardrobe.
He has to make several separate trips for all the ballet stuff. Tutus, costumes, awards and trophies ranging from 2003 to the 1980s, all those pairs of tights and pointe shoes and the attendant sewing materials, medical tape, toe spacers, toe socks, pads, and all those other less than glamorous parts of the vocation. Isabel helps their dad stuff it all in black garbage bags and vocally declares how glad she is not to have to take dance lessons anymore.
“I didn’t want to be a dancer. It was dumb.”
The makeup all goes, too. No more concealer.
Celia: “Dad,” Celia speaks up, waiting for a moment when she can catch him alone, “should we return her trophies to Grandma?” She keeps her tone polite, curious, as if it does not bother her what happens to it all.
There’s a brief pause, as the implication sets in.
“Daddy, are we still going to see her?”
GM: “Nothing by half-measures, sweetie,” Celia’s dad answers. “Your grandma doesn’t talk with your mother, so we won’t either.”
“We can forget about the trophies. This will be a clean break.”
That’d mean at least one set of grandparents to stay in touch with. Dad’s never seemed to be around as much after the Worst Birthday Ever.
Sugar Cube, though, is still doing fine. Ponies live longer than any cats or dogs.
Celia: Celia wants to ask her father if he’d cut ties with her like that if she ever decides to leave her husband. She wants to ask if he’d let her husband dictate whether or not they could see each other, if a career is worth more than her. But she nods instead, kisses his cheek when prompted, and keeps her mouth shut.
GM: Her dad kisses her back and says he’ll always love her. It’s later that night when she spots their housekeeper rummaging through the garbage bins and pocketing her mother’s jewelry.
Celia: Celia thinks to tell her father. Clean break. But it’s her mother. Her mother’s jewelry. It should go to Celia, if anyone. She goes to confront the woman.
GM: She’s a Hispanic woman named Luana who reacts with instant defensiveness and angrily tells off the 14-year-old,
“Your dad wants all this stuff gone! Doesn’t matter what happens when it’s out of the house. You doing this for your madre? Bet she’d rather have the ballet stuff than jewels. Or, what, you want more of those for you? Ask your daddy to buy you some, like that stupid pony I still have to take care of. I bet he never tells you no.”
Celia: “I don’t want the jewels,” Celia scoffs at her. She points at the tube of concealer. “I want that. And…” She picks up a pendant. It’s a dainty thing, a flower, one that her mother wore frequently. “I’ll tell you when to bring in more of this,” Celia taps the tube of concealer, “and I won’t tell anyone I saw you trash picking. I’ll leave the money for it in my room.” She levels a stare at the woman.
GM: The housekeeper glares as Celia takes away the pendant. That’s one less she’ll get to wear herself or hawk to a pawnshop.
“Fine. All the concealer you want.” She glares a moment longer, as if thinking of something hurtful. “You should feel horrible, doing this to your madre. I respect mine! I’d never throw out all her things, behind her back!”
Celia: Celia isn’t going to be lectured by a housekeeper. She takes her treasures and turns away, unwilling to let the woman see the way the words strike her.
“Would your madre be proud to see you digging through trash now?”
GM: Celia can’t see the anger and embarrassment on the woman’s face, but she hears it in her voice as she calls after Celia’s back,
“Not all of us are born with papas who’ll buy us whatever we want!” There’s a lower-muttered, “Brat.”
Celia: Celia is sure that she will one day pay for everything her father has given her. Just like Mom did. She doesn’t say this to Luana, though. It’s none of her business.
Wednesday afternoon, 26 November 2003
GM: Celia’s mom calls her again, some time after the ‘clean break.’ She’s able to talk in longer sentences, but quietly cries at the news that all of her possessions are gone—especially the old ballet things. It’s plain that the added loss wounds her deeply.
Celia: Celia asks again what happened. She mentions she saved a pendant, and that she told Daddy to give her things to Grandma, but he wouldn’t. She feels her own her break when she tells her mom that Isabel is going to drop dance. Celia realizes that this is what Luana was talking about that night: she thought Celia was taking the jewelry for her mother, but Celia had been selfish. It was for her. A knot twists in her belly.
GM: Her mother doesn’t look surprised by the news that Daddy wouldn’t save her things, but she does manage a sadly rueful smile at the news about Isabel.
“I didn’t expect… you or her were goin’ to be ballerinas… that wasn’t your dream. It was just… somethin’ for you to do as… kids.”
Celia: “I was never very graceful.” Celia’s laugh is watery.
GM: Her mom slowly reaches up with a thin-looking hand to stroke your cheek. “You tried… sweetie… I was so proud… how much you tried…”
But it’s the rose pendant that brings a new wave of tears to her mother’s bruised eyes. For the first time, they are not sad ones.
“Oh-h… Celia… I got this… from your grandma… from her mom… and her mom… and hers… it’s been in our family forever…”
“There’s a… story… about how we… in France, from a… it’s just a… funny old story… I’ll tell you… later…”
Celia: “From a what, Momma? Will you tell me the story?” Her smile is worth Luana’s cruel words.
GM: “Y… yes, sweetie… later… when my voice’s… better…”
She presses it back into Celia’s hands.
“I want… you to have it… now… you saved it…”
Celia: “I can’t.” If Daddy sees… she doesn’t need to say the words, they’re there in her head, screaming loud and clear. Bent over his lap is the least of her troubles. A pair of steely eyes float in her vision. She swallows.
“For my 21st birthday,” she tells her mom. “College graduation. Or a wedding present.” She can’t keep it in the house.
“Mom… will you tell me… that night?”
GM: Celia’s sober words instantly banish the dreamy and perhaps morphine-fueled look from her mother’s wet, still-bruised eyes.
“Yes…” she nods somberly, “he might… flush it down the… toilet… we’ll… save it for when… you’re moved out…”
Celia: He would do worse than that. But Celia nods, and waits.
GM: Her mother is silent for a long time. Celia wonders for a moment if her mom has heard her, but that’s only for a moment: it’s plain in the older woman’s eyes that the question got through.
She looks at Celia, her eyes welling with simultaneous fear, love, pain, pride, then finally comes out and says,
“Celia… your dad… isn’t really your dad…”
Celia: Whatever she had expected her mother to say, this wasn’t it. Surely she misheard. Surely her mother is joking. Her mouth is dry. She clears her throat and licks her lips, then leans over the bed as if that will take away the words her mother just said.
My little princess. Give daddy a kiss, baby girl. The voice that was not her father’s. His arms around her, his lips on her forehead. Special little girl.
“What?” She forgets herself, throwing out societal grace with the curt word. Her voice is thin.
GM: Her mother closes her eyes for a moment. Tears well around the purpled flesh.
“Your father is… another man… I was… very young…”
“It… was around… the same time… I was… seeing your dad… that… I mean… seeing… Max…”
“I… wanted him… to be your… dad… it was… the same… time… he could’ve…”
She takes a long, raggedy breath through the ventilator.
“I just… buried it… deep…”
“We were… happy… and he… was your… is your… dad… he raised… you…”
Celia: She has so many questions.
“Who is it? Are you… positive? Does he know? Does Dad know?”
What does this mean for me?
GM: The beeps from the medical equipment intensify as lines spike. The terror in her mother’s eyes is plain as she shakes her head back and forth.
“You… can’t… tell… him… don’t… ever… breathe a…”
“He’ll… kill… me…”
Celia: “I won’t, Momma. I won’t tell him. Of course I won’t.”
GM: There’s a relieved sigh from the ventilator.
“He… I don’t think… but he…”
“I found it… in the mai… DNA test…”
“Don’t… know from… no return address…”
“But… maybe… Bill Roberts… the campaign…”
“But… not in… papers…”
“I don’t… how he’d know…”
“It does… doesn’t make…”
“I don’t know… I don’t know…”
Celia: Bill Roberts. There’s that name again. But her mother’s words don’t make any sense. She tries to be patient, to let the woman speak, but none of it makes any sense.
“Bill Roberts is my dad? Daddy said… said you were cheating with him..?” she tapers off into a question, but that can’t be right. He said Mom was giving him campaign secrets. If he knew Celia was his daughter… wouldn’t that have made news?
“Who’s my dad, Mom? Was that why you… left?”
GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head.
“He’s… not your… dad… just… maybe he was… behind…”
At her daughter’s next questions, she shakes her head even more adamantly, tears welling in her eyes again.
Celia: He ruined our family.
GM: “I… didn’t… I… didn’t…”
Celia: Celia squeezes her mother’s hand, offering what comfort she can.
“You didn’t… leave? Want to leave?”
GM: Her mom gives her hand a limp squeeze back.
“I… m… yes… your father… was… hitting me…”
“Didn’… let you… see… let any of you… see…”
Several tears run past the ventilator.
“I’m… sorry… Celia… I didn’t… prot… ect… you…”
“I… wasn’… tryi… g… hold you… down…”
“I j… w… wanted…. to… hold your… hand…”
“I’m… s… sorr… y…”
“So… sor… ry…”
Celia: That explains why, no matter how much Celia used, there was always more. Dad hit Mom. The blood on the staircase. The fear. The anger. Did Isabel know? Was that why she’d been a brat about it? Does Daddy hit her, too?
She sits back. She doesn’t know what to say. She chews on her lip, her mind racing. She doesn’t even care about that day anymore. The humiliation of being bent over her father’s knee is just one item on a long list.
“You told him you were leaving and he attacked,” she whispers. She hears it again, the screaming. The thud of her mom hitting the floor.
GM: The tears slipping past the ventilator leave wet streaks across her mother’s hospital gown.
“I’m… sor… ry… Cel… ia… I w… ish… I cou… take it… back… stood… up to hi… for you…”
“I… don… I’m… so… sorry…”
Celia: Me too.
GM: Her mother closes her eyes again.
It’s not okay.
And they both know it.
Her voice is calmer when she speaks again, but still wet and uneven behind the ventilator. “You… can’t… see me… anymore… your dad… won’t… want you…”
Celia: “I know.” Her voice breaks. Daddy already told them. Clean break. But he doesn’t have eyes and ears everywhere. He can’t see her at school. Or when she’s eighteen. She can…
Nothing. She can nothing.
She can toe the line, like a good girl, and not give Daddy a reason to throw her out if he finds out the truth.
“Where is the test result?”
GM: “It’s… slipped it… pocket… my pink coat… closet…”
Her mother’s eyes focus in remembrance, then scrunch.
“Oh… d… amn…”
“It… doesn… was just… lots… numbers… need to… be a… scientist… to… better… it’s… gone… don’t… want… him to… see…”
“And… you… shouldn… see… your… other… fath… er…”
Celia: “It’s gone?” How would her mother even know that, she hasn’t been back to the house. But the closet was emptied. She will have to check when she gets home. “Who is he, Mom?”
GM: Celia’s mom falls initially silent, but then looks at the rose pendant.
“He’s a… screenwriter…”
“Lives in… Hollywood…”
Celia: The name means nothing to her. But, “Hollywood? How did you meet him?”
GM: “It was… at a…”
Her mother trails off.
“Celia… you have to… understand… he was… a lot… older…”
“And he’s… black…”
“Does he know I exist?”
GM: Her mother shakes her head.
Celia: “And he’s… black.” Which makes her… black. She looks down at her hands, as fair as her siblings’. Maybe she tans a little more in the summer. Maybe her lips are a little fuller, her hair a little more wild. But… black?
“I’m not… I can’t be…” She waves her hand as if to prove her point. There is no way. None.
GM: “Celia…” her mom starts, “I was… back then… I didn’t want it… to be true… I’d have been so ashamed…”
She reaches out with a frail hand to stroke Celia’s cheek. Her smile is fragile, and all the more so against her still-bruised, bandaged, and swollen face, but the warmth and pride shining through is unmistakable.
“But I look at you… you’re beautiful… whoever… your dad… was…”
Celia: “Not wanting it to be true doesn’t mean it isn’t.” Celia pulls away, eyes wide. “How could you do this to me? You slept with—with a nigger, and you tell me now that I’m his but it’s okay because I’m beautiful?” She spits the word out at her mother. Even angry, she’s careful to keep her voice down.
“You let Daddy—Dad—hit me, you helped him do it, and this is why, because you… because you spread your legs like… like…” She can’t do it, she can’t call her mother a whore. Tears fall down her cheeks, blinding her. “He’ll disown me, he’ll…” Clean break. She’ll be nothing. No one. A halfbreed mongrel.
“What about Isabel? David?” She’s pleading now. Please let it be not true. Let it be the drugs her mom is on. “What about the guy that night, did you sleep with him too?”
GM: The smile on her mom’s face shatters into a thousand pieces at Celia’s next words.
Her hand limply falls. A mother’s fresh tears join her daughter’s.
“C… Celia… I love you… don’t… don’t hate… yourself… there’s… so much… about you… to love… love yourself…”
Celia: “Myself? I don’t hate myself. I didn’t choose this.” She wipes at her eyes, at her nose. Her arm comes away shiny and wet. “You did this. You ruined everything. You let him do this to you, and to me, and to all of them, and now there’s no one, there’s no one but me, and I’m not even… I’m…”
Her words blur into hiccups. She covers her face. No wonder Daddy doesn’t love her. No wonder he takes away her things; he knows what a whore Mom was and is afraid she’ll turn out the same way. Pregnant in high school. She’s done the math. But it was worse than that, worse than any of them knew.
“I have to go.”
GM: “C… ELIA!” her mom cries. The beeps from the adjacent medical equipment turn sharper and shriller as her mother takes a laborious suck of air and shakily tries to rise from the bed.
Celia: She pauses, turns.
GM: The curt response looks as if it hits her mom’s bruised, beaten face like another slap. Celia can hear the ventilator wheezily sucking as her mother spreads her trembling arms.
“Can… I get… a hug…?”
GM: The word seems to take Celia’s mother a second to process. She just stares.
Then it hits her like her husband’s gut punch.
“CELIAAA!” she wails, jerkingly ambling off the bed. She crashes to the floor in a heap and knocks over her IV stand. Medical equipment shrilly screams as IV fluid and a thin trail of blood spills over the linoleum.
Celia: “Mom!” The anger is gone in a second. Celia rushes forward, dropping to her knees beside her mother. She doesn’t know where to put her hands to help her up.
GM: The commotion swiftly brings hospital staff. Scrub-attired nurses fall over Celia’s mother, doing things she can only pray are helpful. Her mom’s hand weakly grasps for hers before a nurse brusquely separates them.
“You’ll need to wait outside, ma’am.”
Celia: Celia can only nod slowly, sliding back toward the door.
She did this. She really is her father’s daughter.
Wednesday afternoon, 7 January 2004
GM: Life goes on in the Flores household. Celia hears her younger siblings crying sometimes, which Isabel sharply admonishes them for (“Mom decided she doesn’t love us!”), and they never do when Dad is around. Mom doesn’t call again.
Maybe because she thinks Dad will overhear.
Or maybe because she thinks Celia doesn’t want to talk to her.
Celia: Celia speaks to Isabel for her admonishing of the little ones, pointing out they’re just babies and they need time, and asks the younger girl if there’s anything she needs. She doesn’t expect an answer from her wasp-tongued little sister, but she asks all the same.
GM: “I’m fine, you think I’m not?” the 12-year-old replies peevishly, true to Celia’s expectations. “Mom’s a… mom’s a BITCH!”
Celia: Of course.
All the while, she waits for a call that never comes. She can’t get the sight of her fallen mother out of her head, the sound of her body hitting the floor. She dreams of it, of blood and axes and men that are too tall to be her father. She is too old to go crying to Daddy with her nightmares, and Isabel’s heart is hardened and hurting. Celia has no one to talk to. She is alone. Afraid in her own home. Uncertain of her future.
GM: There’s always her friends at McGehee to confide in. But she hears they’ve been talking behind her back ever since that party where she promised to come through with booze from her dad’s private sash and never did.
Bentley Downs is one of the worst gossips. She’s a full two grades younger, but having heard the story from some other eighth grader, she won’t stop running her mouth about it.
Celia: The gossip eats at her. She doesn’t stoop to explain herself, but maybe that makes it worse.
She asks Daddy if she can finally see that dermatologist, terrified he will find her secret stash of concealer. She tries lemon juice and baking powder and oatmeal and egg whites.
GM: The home remedies don’t help. At all. Her skin gets worse. Dad lets her see a dermatologist, though. Anything for his little girl. So long as it isn’t makeup.
He allows the prescribed creams when the doctor explains that it’s not.
Celia: The creams aren’t working quickly enough. She pulls late nights trying to run interference with her siblings and their father, always afraid he will lash out at them next.
Life has become a juggling act.
When she is alone she cries. She thinks once to confide in Luana, but she cannot risk saying the wrong thing, or the woman taking it back to Dad.
Finally, she picks up the phone and calls her mom.
GM: The phone picks up on the first ring.
Celia: “Mom.” Celia’s voice is low. Quiet, heavy.
“Mom, how’s… how’s your… everything?”
GM: “I…” her mother’s voice breaks. Whether at the question, the sound of Celia’s voice, or both, may be a question of idle curiosity to the eighth grader before her mom continues, “It’s been hard, sweetie… it’s been very hard… but I’ve managed…”
“Tell me about you.” Her voice immediately brightens. “I want to hear all about you. How’s school? How’s your skin? How’s… things at home?”
Celia: “It’s… it’s bad, Mom, it’s really bad.”
The words pour out of her and she cannot stop them: the childish troubles at school, the gossip from that little bitch that she is sure Isabel is fueling, the burn on her face from the lemon juice, the way she can’t sleep because she is afraid that at any moment her life will come crashing down around her, Isabel’s sudden hostility…
She wants to mention the eyes, the eyes that haunt her nights, the monster that came out from under the bed and won’t go back beneath it. The screams she hears when she tries to sleep. The way she cannot go into Isabel’s room without being struck by terror, as if at any moment something will drag her off. The sight of her mother reaching for her, falling, when she turned away. But she does not say these things.
“I don’t know how to help them, I don’t know what to do if he gets mad again, I just don’t know,” she finishes. She has been walking on eggshells around her father, afraid to set him off. “What if it’s me next?” How could you leave us here?
GM: “Oh, sweetie… I’m so sorry… you shouldn’t have to go through any of this…”
“Your father never got that mad at you and the others… usually it was me. I don’t want to lie to you things could never get worse, I know you’ve been on the bad end of his temper, but… I think children are different to him, than a wife.”
“If worst comes to worst, if you’re ever really scared for yourself, for your siblings… tell him I’ve been calling the house. That’ll… that’ll get his mind off things, I think.”
“Just call me, if he gets in the car.”
Celia: This is not what she wants to hear.
“I’m sorry. About… the hospital. Is your leg..?”
GM: “It’s… I’m sorry, sweetie. I should’ve broken it to you more slowly. After you’d had some time, to digest everything else.”
“That was all too much, just too much, to unload on you at once…”
Celia: “Mom… what happened with dad’s dad?”
GM: There’s a pause, as if Celia’s mom is considering whether or not to tell her.
But she has her daughter on the phone. So she answers, “Honey, there’s no good way to put this… your grandmother had an affair with another man. Your grandfather raised your father, but…”
“Well. You remember.”
As if wanting to change the topic, she adds, “My leg is… I can walk, but ballet… ballet’s over. At least on the big stage.”
“It’s… it’s not that bad. There’s very few dancers who do it past their mid-30s. Very, very few dancers. I’m 30, my best years were already behind me.”
“I’ve been teaching, at a local dance studio. I’ll start at McGehee soon. That was always the plan, after I retired.”
Celia: Celia is struck by the words her mother says to her. Grandmother had an affair. Grandfather raised Daddy, but… it is that ‘but’ that clues her in. Daddy isn’t Grandfather’s child? She isn’t Daddy’s child. Her heart lurches. Is this the future that is in store for her, alienation and isolation? Will she hate him, too? Hate the whole family?
She tries to picture it. Showing up for a birthday party with a gift. Thrown out by Isabel because she isn’t a real Flores. Ruining a child’s birthday.
She is so busy contemplating her own future, trying to find a way to cement her place in the family, that she almost misses the words of her mother.
“McGehee? Momma, that’s… that’s wonderful. I can see you at school. I already told Daddy I don’t want to stop dancing, I’ll—”
She’ll what? Substitute having a mother at home for an hour during the school day? Act cold and aloof towards her own mom during class so it doesn’t get back to Isabel, then Dad?
“I called… I called the police that night, Momma. They wouldn’t come. They said they were on their way and then they weren’t.” She sniffs, rubbing her eyes. “I should have gone next door, I should have shot that man, I should have—have saved you.”
GM: “N-no, sweetie,” her mom quickly amends. “Don’t think that, that there’s anything more you could’ve done… that would’ve destroyed your life, when the cops got there. I don’t ever want to lose you like that.”
“And the cops did get there… do you not remember?”
“I don’t blame you if you don’t… it was an awful, awful night. There’s a lot I don’t remember, either… I think that’s for the best.”
“But men like your father don’t get arrested by cops. They pay the cops’ salaries.”
Celia: “… what do you mean? They never came. They said they were in their way, and then they weren’t, and then there was a… a man there who… who might have… maybe he was a policeman..?”
But he had tucked her in. Did policemen do that? And she had seen him before.
GM: “They did come, sweetie… the Blackwatch people are only a minute from the house. The cops came after them, with an ambulance… you got it to show up. You’re… you’re why I’m still alive, Celia…”
Her mom sniffs. “I’m so proud of you… you were so, so brave…”
Celia: “I don’t…”
I don’t remember any of that.
“What about… the tall man? He was there before… before anyone. Did he pull Dad off you?”
GM: “The tall man?” her mother asks uncertainly.
“Maybe one of them was tall. I blacked out, sweetie. The doctors tell me it was from fear and shock. They said my heart actually stopped for a bit, to protect me from shock.”
Celia: You’re imagining things, he had told her. Had she imagined him? Had shock made her imagine the entire thing? But… she’d seen him before. She and Isabel had both seen him before. That night of the birthday party. And yet… there hadn’t been a crime scene. There hadn’t been blood. Isabel hadn’t found pieces of bone or skin or—her stomach churns at the thought of bits of her mother lying on the floor. She can’t think of it. She won’t.
“Oh,” she says instead. “I… I guess I…” But Mom confirmed that she had been attacked.
Celia can’t breathe.
“I think I’m just in shock, too, Mom.” She doesn’t want her mom to worry. “I have to go though. We will talk soon, okay? I love you. And I’m… I’m sorry.”
GM: Celia can see the apprehension on her mom’s face even across the phone, but the older woman answers,
“Okay, sweetie… but don’t be sorry. You saved my life. I love you so, so much…”
Winter 2004—fall 2007
High school (or “upper school” as it’s called at McGehee) is better and worse.
Celia’s mom doesn’t see her at school. It’s “too dangerous,” in her words. People might talk. She’s scared her husband (well, ex-husband) already knows she works at McGehee. Celia can’t take any of the dance classes there.
Celia feels like she’s walking on eggshells around her dad. But he doesn’t get mad. Everyone does things his way. Everyone feels closer, after Mom walked out on them. Celia’s mother implores her (over the phone) not to rock the boat, not to risk upsetting him. Just do what he wants.
That means no makeup still. No dating. No dances. No boys. No bad movies. No staying out after curfew.
David is allowed to date once he enters seventh grade. It’s different for boys.
Dad seems to find his decision vindicated when Rebecca Whitney, the prom queen and most popular girl in school, is killed in a car crash by a drunk driver on the eve of her senior prom. Boys are involved. The school community is devastated. Dad presses the school to get rid of coed proms altogether, but the administration ultimately chooses to keep them. They just come down hard on student drinking and hire a psychologist to counsel grieving students and faculty.
Hurricane Katrina drowns half the city, but the Flores are barely affected. Audubon Place is safely removed from floodwaters, looters, unauthorized entrants alike. The Blackwatch mercenaries shoot anyone who tries to get in and doesn’t belong.
Celia doesn’t see, though. Her family just stays at a nice hotel in Baton Rouge for a while. It’s convenient, being so nearby the state legislature. Dad is always making drives up there. He and Nathan Malveaux, the Senate minority leader and state GOP chair, are working overtime like demons in the hurricane’s aftermath.
It’s not even that long before they get to go home. Most of the city looks like a third world country’s war zone, but Audubon Place is all but untouched, and McGehee soon reopens its doors. Besides the hurricane, the new Devillers girls are the talk of the school.
Cécilia Devillers seems strangely above the usual gossip and social backbiting. She listens to it, but without encouraging any story’s spread, and people just love telling her things. She’s kind and sympathetic to everyone. Everything about McGehee’s new tenth grade queen bee seems almost seems too perfect, sometimes. There’s never anything wrong in her life that other people have to be sympathetic about.
Celia: It’s hard not to like Cécilia. Even though she’s effortlessly perfect. Even though someone started the joke that Celia is just a Cécilia knockoff, the bottom of the barrel bargain. What started as a joke about her name festers into something more. But Celia smiles, because Daddy told her that’s what ladies do even when they’re sad or mad or hurting. They smile. And Cécilia herself never said anything about Celia’s mom working at the school with a busted leg, or waxed poetic about dreams cut short, or asked if Celia had tried Accutane. And that’s… that’s nice.
GM: Ladies do smile. Every girl who goes to the “West Point for Southern belles” wants to be a lady.
Smiles are the best way to hide one’s knives.
There’s a girl named Samantha Watts who really seems to have it out for Cécilia. Celia gets some pictures from her of Cécilia’s cheating boyfriend (Elliot Faustin) caught in the act. After that “Celia—The Cheaper Cécilia Knockoff” note that got passed around in class one embarrassing day, Sami must think she has it out for her longer-named counterpart. Celia can try to stifle the scandal, and perhaps win the queen bee’s favor, or try to help knock the queen off her throne and win the new claimant’s favor. Perhaps even make a claim for that throne herself.
And that makes her mom, her grandpa, and now the school’s queen bee. It seems like no one is ever in a faithful relationship.
GM: Movies seem to be everywhere, too. Elliot and his movie. Ronnie Landreneau and his.
Celia’s seen his name in a bunch of places, with a bunch of movies. Breached. Heck of a Job. That ongoing TV show set in the Quarter. His name’s been hot stuff ever since Katrina. He moved back to the city.
Celia: It isn’t Cécilia’s fault. That’s what Celia tells herself. That’s how she justifies her actions when she makes a move to squash the rumors. Because it isn’t Cécilia’s fault that people ask if the Flores couldn’t afford the two extra letters, and no one—even pristine princesses—deserve to have a cheating scandal thrown in their face so publicly. She’s never dated, but she can imagine the betrayal. She felt some small echo of it when she found out her whole life was a lie.
She keeps the photos—Daddy doesn’t allow this sort of material in the house and she’s, well, curious—and discourages the rumor. Samantha Watts is the kind of girl to fuck her own uncle, after all, why would a boy like Elliot sleep with her?
GM: Sami Watts still has the photos herself, of course. They have Elliot’s face in them. She gets them out to more girls, who share them with friends.
But if there’s one thing Celia has learned to do from both her parents, it’s keep up appearances.
GM: Gossip at Cafe Louise, passed notes in class, after-school phone calls, slumber parties—it all builds the entirely believable-feeling narrative that Elliot was just a dirtbag, and not good enough for Cécilia, cheating on her the way he did—she’s always so nice to everybody. And what even happened to that movie he promised, anyway? He never came through with that. There’s talk Sami was supposed to be the lead actress. She’s clearly pissed at him—and oh are there rumors about her, with how much class she’s been missing, how out of it she seems. Didn’t she go to the school nurse with…
Cécilia approaches Celia after school when all of their identically-dressed classmates are heading off to their cars.
“I’ve heard what sorts of things you’ve been saying about me and Elliot. Thanks for that,” she smiles.
“The breakup has already been rough. But it’s let me know who’s really a friend and who’s not.”
Celia: “You know what they say about grasping hands.”
GM: Cécilia seems to study her shorter-named classmate for a moment, then touches her arm.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I suppose that is exactly the sort of thing I’d also say to girls who’ve been badmouthing me. I mean it, really. Thank you for having my back.”
Celia: Celia nods. “I don’t know what happened with Watts to make her dislike you so much, but for what it’s worth I’m sorry about you and Elliot. I didn’t know him very well, but cheating…” She trails off. “Well. If you need a girls night or anything.”
GM: “That sounds great,” Cécilia smiles. “I’m definitely feeling a little tired of nights with boys right now.”
“And… I’m not sure that it’s any of my business, but if there’s anything I can do for you, or your mom…”
Celia: There’s a small part of her that wants to confide. The hacksaw. The police. The abuse.
But word travels fast at McGehee, and Celia knows better than to confide in her classmates, no matter how well intentioned. Her smile might be slow, and it might not reach her eyes, but it’s as genuine as she can make it to mask the concern.
“I appreciate that, Cécilia, I really do. I’ll let you know if I think of anything. For now it’s just…” She doesn’t know what she can safely say. Any of her words could be misconstrued. “Just drama,” she finishes with a sigh and a rueful smile. “Honestly I need more help with Isabel than anything. Sisters, right?”
GM: “Oh, I know what you mean there. I live with five,” Cécilia answers with a rueful smile of her own. “How could Isabel be a less… help-needing sister, if you could pick any way?”
Celia: “Less… bull-headed?” Celia scrunches up her nose. “Less ornery and… angry, I guess. She’s so… difficult. Shut down, closed off. Like the world is against her and I’m here on her side and she won’t talk to me and I guess I’m just… frustrated.” Celia runs a hand through her hair. “She keeps lashing out and I’m concerned she’s going to do it to the wrong person and it’s going to blow up in her face. And maybe that needs to happen for her, but also she’s my sister. Does.. that make sense?”
GM: “I think that does,” Cécilia nods. “You’re hurt by what she’s doing, and you’re worried she’s going to hurt herself if she keeps doing it. But you also think that getting hurt might teach her a lesson, so she won’t get hurt later.”
“It’s not good to always be angry. And if you can’t get through her with sympathy, I think it sounds healthy for her to release that anger through some kind of outlet.”
“Are there any less harmful ones where you think she maybe could?”
Celia: “An outlet,” Celia repeats, nodding. “That’s a good idea. I like that. I’ll have to find something she and I, or even just she, can get into. I guess it isn’t dance.” She forces a laugh. “I’ll look into that, thanks.” Her smile is easier this time. “Everything holding up on your end?”
GM: “Dance might be tough, if it’s associated with your mom,” Cécilia agrees.
“It’s been… difficult with Elliot, I admit.”
“My mom found out he’d been lying to me, about everything. Who his family was, going to film school, even his name—it’s actually Emmett. The person I’d thought was my boyfriend was basically all made up.”
“It’s made me more suspicious of people. Part of me wonders what they might be lying about. And I know I don’t want to think or feel that way.”
Celia: “Wow, that’s… wow. I can’t even imagine…”
But she can, can’t she? Isn’t she, too, a fraud? Not that she had a choice in the matter. She does now, but that’s… different. Already so firmly embedded, right?
She realizes that this, perhaps, is why El—Emmett—did what he did. He was already in too deep.
“I think, sometimes, people lie about everything. And lie to themselves more than anything else. And… maybe—please don’t take this the wrong way—maybe it’s better that ‘Elliot’ doesn’t really exist. Like he’s… still out there somewhere, the person you thought he was, you know? And you get to find him, now that you know you’re looking.”
GM: “That’s true. That’s a really beautiful way of looking at things,” Cécilia smiles. “I have a better sense of what I’m looking for in boyfriends, now. So I am looking for him.”
Celia: “You’ll have to tell me all the details; my dad has a thing against dating right now.” Celia rolls her eyes, as if it’s no big deal, as if plenty of girls can’t wear makeup or talk to boys or go to dances. “So, five sisters? That sounds… intense.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry,” Cécilia frowns sympathetically. “I have a few friends who are in a similar boat, you might enjoy talking with them. It feels like there are more girls who can’t date at the Ursuline Academy, but they definitely go to McGehee too.”
“And yes, it is. We don’t have any dad or brothers, so it’s just us and Maman.” She smiles knowingly. “Men don’t run in our genes.”
Celia: “Trust me, you’re not missing anything. My younger brother just hit that age where he’s starting to notice girls. I don’t think he’s talked about anything else since.”
GM: “I guess that’s one benefit of an all-girls school, isn’t it? We really aren’t missing anything being surrounded by boys that age all the time.”
GM: Celia doesn’t have to sit through the boy-less high school that much longer, though, before graduation day. It feels like there’s such a dark cloud at home, sometimes: everyone’s felt so tired and drained since Mom left. Isabel is so snappish and irritable the younger kids are trying to avoid her. They’re glum Celia is leaving, and then when she tells Dad she wants to go to Tulane, guilty over being glad she isn’t leaving. It’s a coed school, so Celia will continue to live at home and account for where she is at what hours.
It’s either Tulane or Liberty University. He approves of the curriculum and student honor code there.
Her dad tells her that she may start to date boys while at college. There may be (chaste) kissing, so long as she brings them home to meet him first. She will see a gynecologist every two semesters to check whether her hymen is still intact.
He reminds her of one of his favorite quotes: “‘Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.’”
Celia: Celia asks her father to have dinner one night, just the two of them, to talk about her future plans. He has already taken her for her first visit to the gynecologist, and she suffered some mild cramps afterward from the biopsy that was taken, but the spotting has ended and her virginity is intact, and so she has arranged for the children to be away for the evening so she and her father can talk over his favorite meal. A graduation celebration. Or virginal victory.
Regardless, she is dressed as a woman now rather than a girl, though the neckline is modest and her shoes flat. She will not risk upsetting him. She stands at his side, pours his wine, and serves him first from the to-go boxes. Her lips press against his cheek before she sits beside him, the newly resized promise ring on her finger.
“Thank you for humoring me, Daddy. I know you’re busy with everything, so I appreciate you taking the time. And I thought this would be a nice break.” She smiles.
GM: “It is, sweetie,” her dad smiles as he kisses her cheek back. “It feels like we have a lady in the house again.”
“I’ve thought of remarrying, more than once. It would be good for your siblings to have a woman in their life.”
“But I’ve never been able to shake the thought she wouldn’t accept you as her own.”
“You don’t need that in your lives.”
Celia: “Oh? I didn’t know that. Would you… have more children if you did?” It’s an interesting thought. More little Maxens running around. She wonders if he has met someone and decides she would rather not know. “We want you to be happy, Daddy.”
GM: “I know you do, sweetie. I wouldn’t have more children. Five is enough. Their mother would always love any new ones more than you.”
“I can’t blame anyone for valuing their own flesh and blood more than a stranger’s. But that wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“In the wild, many male animals kill the previous offspring of females they take for mates, to ensure she will be fully devoted to their new offspring’s protection and survival. God may have created us first and in His image, but He endowed us with many of the same instincts as animals.”
“No one wants to raise a child that isn’t theirs.”
Her dad sips his wine.
“We’ll have you take cooking classes in college. I should have remembered those for you at McGehee. You need to know how to cook for your husband.”
Celia: Celia’s mouth is dry. She reaches for the glass of water in front of her, wondering what it would be like if she had a glass of wine as well.
“I heard that some animals eat their young. The mothers, I mean. To… to give the surviving children a better chance to thrive.” The thought turns her stomach. The entire topic turns her stomach, and the meal in front of her is suddenly less appealing. She spears a cherry tomato on the tines of her fork and cuts it in half, focusing on the simple act of drawing the blade back and forth. It does little to settle her.
“I was hoping,” she says after a moment, “to, um, to talk to you about that. Thriving, I mean. And success. I… there’s no easy way to say this, Daddy. I feel this—this pressure to make you proud, and I think sometimes, I get in my head about it, and I just… I hope you’re not… disappointed that I chose Tulane instead of Liberty. Because I just—I wanted to stay close, and I hope that’s not wrong or small of me —”
She cuts herself off.
GM: Her dad frowns and looks up at her from cutting his steak. Celia picked it up at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
“Why are you nervous, sweetie?”
“I wouldn’t have let you go to Tulane if I didn’t approve.”
He takes a bite. “Logan and the others are still young. It’s good for them to have a woman in their lives.”
“The university has that nonsense requirement about living on campus, but Mr. McGregor lives next door. He’ll get it waived.”
Celia: “Oh. That… oh. Right. Of course. I think I just imagined…” She pushes the mangled mess she’d made of the tomato around on her plate. “This, sorry, this wasn’t even what I wanted to talk about in regards to going. There was just… I want to do well, in life and in school, so I wanted your input on what I should, um, pursue. Major wise.” She takes a breath. “It’s not even a big deal, I don’t know why I’m so flustered, I think I’m just nervous about picking the wrong thing and being stuck.”
GM: “Don’t play with your food,” her dad admonishes.
He cuts off another bite of steak.
“You should study something in the liberal arts. Something that will be a good conversation piece with your husband.”
“Theology. English. History. Music. Drama. Art History. Majors like those.”
Celia: “Drama like acting? Would you come visit in Hollywood if I make it big?” She’s only teasing.
GM: Her dad had been fine with her taking private lessons. Her mom wasn’t fine. She was thrilled.
“Hollywood is disgusting and obscene,” he answers without smiling. “I’d never let you go there.”
Celia: She nods agreeably.
“Anyway, I was looking through Tulane’s brochure, I saw that they have a dance program…” she trails off. She had stuck with her private lessons, even though she hadn’t been able to take the ballroom class at McGehee, but she knows the subject is a potentially sore spot for her father.
GM: He frowns at hearing her considered major.
“Why?” he asks simply.
Celia: “I enjoy it. It never came as naturally to me-” Isabel’s robot dancer comment still stings, “-but I feel… free. When I dance, I mean, when I’m in lessons, it’s like the choreography is a guide and within those lines there is a different world entirely and I get to live there and show people that, and when it’s over I’m back here and it’s all the sweeter for having been gone a moment. It’s structured and disciplined but it’s… it’s art, too, and beauty.”
GM: Her dad looks thoughtful at the word ‘disciplined.’
He stops chewing.
He doesn’t say anything.
His eyes look like they’re in a distant place as Celia’s words slowly turn over.
Then he stares directly at her.
“What happened to th…”
“Those aw… those ol…”
He blinks slowly and looks over his now-adult daughter, from her hands to her face.
“Jesus, who ar…”
He lifts his wineglass. He doesn’t sip, he quaffs.
He sets it down and fiercely cuts into the steak. Steel scrapes against plate as his face sets.
“Dance is fine, sweetie. Do that.”
He lifts up a bite and chews.
Celia: Celia doesn’t know what is going on with her father. She shrinks back in her chair as the expressions play out on his face. She shouldn’t have brought up dance.
“I can pick something else.”
GM: “Do it,” he repeats, determinedly cutting apart more steak.
Celia: “Okay. Great. And… and you want me to live at home, right?”
GM: “Yes, you will. I already said you weren’t going to live on campus.”
Celia: “Right. I know. I was just wondering if that meant we could maybe look into getting a car. For me, I mean. For school.”
GM: “You don’t need a car.”
Celia: “Yes, Daddy.”
The answer to so many things.
It feels like it’s going to be a long four years.