“I’ll give you power, little toy. Three nights.”
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM
GM: Celia arrives at her mom’s place to find the pink Beetle still parked alongside the curb. She slides Em’s car into a parking spot. She opens the door to the apartment building and heads upstairs.
It’s when she’s halfway up the steps that she remembers her mother never gave her a key.
Celia: Too late. It’s too late to turn around. Her phone is in her pocket and a gun is in her hand, the one she stole from her new friend Chase and his psycho bitch friend. She takes the steps as quietly as she can, but the door swung open so she doesn’t think it even matters anymore.
This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go. This is not how tonight was supposed to go at all. She has no backup. No plan. Nothing but a pair of guns and whatever she can think of in the moment.
GM: Celia steps into the apartment. There’s food laid out on the table. Two big pans of lasagna.
They’re not full pans. There’s servings on six plates across the table. Celia can smell it up close. It’s got all the usual staples of ground beef, noodles, tomato sauce, and gooey melted grated parmesan, shredded mozzarella, and small curd cottage cheese, all seasoned with basil and garlic powder. Her mom has also added carmelized chopped onion, zucchini, summer squash, and spinach, presumably to make it more nutritious.
There’s also a separate caesar salad with croutons and the usual dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, egg, black pepper, mustard, and garlic, with grated parmesan.
Last of all is a pan of warm and gooey-looking chocolate brownies, firmer towards the edges of the pan and softer towards the center, with individual little chocolate chips poking out.
All that’s missing is the family to eat it.
Celia: Maybe they went to the… park. For a walk. A late night family walk, with all the dishes still out. That makes sense. Right? Total sense.
Celia doesn’t buy it for a moment. She edges past the kitchen, ignoring the way her stomach tells her it hasn’t eaten dinner yet, and into the family room. She doesn’t call out. She keeps her back to the wall. She won’t be grabbed from behind again.
Her mind makes up stories about her family. Horrible, horrible stories. Her siblings strewn across the ground, cut into pieces. Her mom laying in a puddle of her own blood. She sniffs the air, but all she can smell is the lasagna.
GM: There’s no one there.
Nothing but uneaten lasagna.
Celia: Of course her family isn’t in the family room.
They’re in their beds, dead.
She edges down the hall.
GM: The doors creak open. Celia didn’t go inside before, when her mom offered. Each room has two beds that are each big enough for two.
They lie empty.
Besides a phone lying at the foot of one of them.
It’s open to a text message.
Daddy come get us it’s just me the younger ones and your ex
Celia brought over a bunch of people earlier but they’re gone now
Please come get us!!!!!!
Below is the home’s address.
Celia reaches for the phone.
She’s going to kill her sister. She will absolutely kill her. Wrap her fingers around her fucking neck and watch the life fade from her eyes.
She puts the phone in her pocket. Moves back out of the room to check the other, just to make sure.
GM: She finds nothing she wanted.
And everything she expected.
Celia: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea occurs to her. She doesn’t stop to think about it. She searches for the number on her phone. Calls the bar. Saints & Sinners.
Monsters, right? If Cécilia’s mother won’t help, there are other monsters out there. Monsters she’s willing to deal with.
GM: “Saints and Sinners,” says a bored-sounding guy. Music pounds in the background.
Celia: “Call for Chase,” she says sweetly. She describes him, just in case the voice doesn’t know who he is. “He’s a patron,” she adds.
GM: “Yeah, he’s here,” says the guy.
“Showin’ magic tricks to a girl.”
Celia: “Great, can you tell him that you’ve got another girl on the phone who has something that belongs to him? Tell him I stole it.”
GM: There’s a pause.
More pounding music. Indistinct voices.
“Uh, what’d you steal?” says the guy.
Celia: “Something from his bedroom.” She puts the right inflection in her voice, a little bit sultry, a little bit flirty, a little bit bored of this guy. “Tell him it’s Cici and that I want to tie up some loose ends.”
GM: Another pause.
More music. Foreign to Celia, and a little loud, but the kind Cici is accustomed to.
“Okay, he says to come over,” says the guy.
Celia: “To the bar?”
“Where are you?”
Celia: “I’m asking where I can meet him, silly.”
GM: “Yeah, but like, where are you?”
Celia: “At home. Thinking about him.”
“And his friend.”
GM: “Okayyyy, where’s home? Like, address?”
Celia: Her life for her mom’s.
Her life for her family’s.
It’s a trade she’s willing to make.
She gives him the address to her mom’s temporary location. Checks to make sure that the safety is off on the gun.
“Tell him I’m waiting.”
GM: The man hangs up.
Celia: She finds a corner to make her stand. No one can get you in the corners. They can’t grab you from behind. Can’t sneak up on you. She leaves the door unlocked. There’s no point in pretending this is anything other than it is.
She sends a text to Em.
Keys are under the bed if I don’t make it out. There’s a file on my computer, clip.mp4. If you don’t hear from me soon, get it to Miranda.
She sends a text to Stephen, too.
I love you.
GM: Steam still wafts from the lasagna.
But it’s a faint plume.
Fading slowly against the night.
Celia: Ten minutes. The bar isn’t that far away. She’ll give them ten minutes. And if not… then she’s on her own. She’s faced worse before. And she has some idea where they might be.
She should have listened to Cécilia. Gotten them out immediately. Who gives a fuck about a failed test when her dad has her whole family?
She doesn’t care what Em said last night. She’s going to kill him.
GM: The clock silently ticks.
Seconds pass. One second to several seconds.
Several seconds to ten seconds.
Celia: Her nerves start to fail her.
She should go. Before they get here, she should go. Confront him on her own. She has the gun. People are afraid of guns.
She edges toward the window to peek outside. If no one is there she might still be able to make it to Em’s car.
GM: A hand pulls her back.
“Impatient little toy,” purrs a voice.
GM: They’re right there.
Her green eyes smolder like slow-burning coals as her perfect lips curl into a cruel sneer. She wears a strapless red minidress that complements her unblemished chocolate skin and snugly hugs her ample curves. She glides about in the gold-heeled six-inch platform pumps like she’s walking on air.
He cuts a handsome figure in his bad boy leather jacket, dark pants, and tight dark t-shirt that nicely shows off his abs. Gold glints from the Rolex and gem-set rings around his slender fingers. He’s shorter than the woman, slim and sinewy, like a cobra with four limbs. His lips are quirked in a self-content smirk as his dark eyes twinkle with devilish amusement.
They look like runway models. CGI models. Something off a magazine cover. The kind of beauty Celia works so hard to create every day at cos school and knows she never can, that will never last even if she could. Because it must come off at some point. Because everyone is ugly at some point.
But they aren’t.
Somehow, she knows, they aren’t.
They ooze sensuality with their every look, their every gesture. But it’s a predatory kind, the kind that gives Celia goosebumps and makes her hair stand on end and her gut twist, even as it makes her loins wet and her cheeks flushed.
They are monsters.
But they are such, such, beautiful monsters.
Celia: Celia’s stomach bottoms out. It just drops. Like it’s not there anymore. And whatever courage she thought she had fades before them. She hadn’t even heard them come in. The woman’s hands are on her, pulling her back, and she doesn’t fight against it. She welcomes it. Her body is their toy. Their happy little toy. Her lips curve into a smile at the sight of them.
Cici smiles at the monsters, because Cici is everything that Celia can’t be. Strong. Brave. Smart. Words she’d never use to describe herself, but with this mask she’s… not them, but willing to play with them, willing to take their castoff toys and discarded clothes and backhanded compliments. So when she smiles it’s not feigned because it’s not Celia anymore. Celia doesn’t exist.
“You made it.” Her voice is a delighted purr. Nowhere near as sensual as hers. A cub’s bark instead of a lion’s roar, maybe, but she’s trying.
I like moxie. It’s the only thing that will get her through this. She clings to that thought. Strong. Brave. Confident. Fierce. She channels it.
GM: The woman’s ruby-nailed hands trace Celia’s face. The nails are long and perfect. A predator’s talons.
“Were we late, little toy? Were you expecting us sooner?” she purrs back.
“We got so sad, after you ran out on us last night,” mock-pouts the man.
Celia: The touch sends a shiver down her spine. Her blink is just a hair slower than normal.
“No,” she says. “I appreciate your haste. And… Chase, I don’t believe you for a moment. You seemed well-occupied. But that’s why I called. I didn’t want my new friends to miss me overmuch.”
Celia nods toward her purse, sitting on the table. “I got you something. To make up for it. I was going to drop it off, but I couldn’t quite remember where you live.”
GM: “Oh? A present?” asks the woman, emerald eyes smoldering. She doesn’t let go of Celia, but her head slowly tilts away like a bird of prey spotting some new meal. Even the way her neck moves is perfect.
“I’d have preferred to steal it,” says Chase in that same mock-pouting tone.
The purse is suddenly in his hands.
“Everything tastes better when you steal it.”
Celia: “Well, silly, it’s not for you. You didn’t win the game.”
Looking inside, Chase can see a very small package wrapped in silver paper. There’s a card, too, with a lipstick kiss, but it’s not addressed to anyone.
GM: “Oh? So this belongs to someone else?” asks Chase. “Someone besides me?”
His devilish eyes twinkle as turns a gloating smirk towards the woman. He pockets the card and bottle into his jacket.
“I think that does make it mine, now.”
A low, almost feline hiss sounds from the woman as her smoldering eyes set upon Chase. “That’s mine.”
“Takers keepers, cousin dearest,” he smirks back.
Celia: “I have something else you can steal. If you think you’re up for it.”
GM: The woman is gone. She’s suddenly right behind Chase, her beautiful features twisted with feral venom, her talon-like nails raised as if to strike.
Celia doesn’t see him turn. He’s suddenly facing away from her.
Low hisses split the air—but pause at her words.
“Oh?” asks Chase.
He doesn’t look away from the woman.
Celia: “Something more challenging than taking from a purse. But… I don’t know if you’re up for it, now.” Celia tilts her head slightly.
GM: Chase smiles darkly.
She sees it, for the first time.
Two sharp and protruding… fangs.
“Try me, little girl.”
His tongue runs slowly across them.
It’s… no. Her eyes can’t be seeing this. They can’t be. It’s not real. But it explains… everything. Everything she didn’t want to think about. The darkness. The monsters. The blood. It’s right in front of her but she can’t believe it. She can’t stare too closely because then that makes it real, and if it’s real…
It can’t be real. Monsters don’t exist. They don’t pick you up at a bar and take you home and fuck you six ways to Sunday and then come when you call. Her mind jumps to all the possible scenarios. Prosthetics. A cult. A gang. A quirk. Don’t people in Korea file their teeth?
But she knows he is none of those things. Her mind won’t accept it but her gut knows, and it’s telling her to scream. To run. To hide. These are the monsters that live under the bed.
She has to swallow before she can get the words out.
“There’s a woman. If you steal her, you get a prize.” She can’t explain any further. Her voice already trembles, but she avoids the humiliation of stuttering.
GM: “What prize?”
They’re suddenly on the couch. Celia is seated on the woman’s leap. She feels the woman’s hands tracing along her breasts, pinching her nipples. The touch is electric.
“Aren’t you our prize?”
Chase’s nostrils sniff.
“She smells even stronger up close,” he smirks. “Someone’s had a wild night.”
Celia: Magic. She gets it now.
She is very, very still on the woman’s lap. Her nipples strain against her bra, clearly outlined by the thin shirt she’s wearing. She leans against the woman, arching her back into the touch. Her thighs rub together beneath her skirt.
“Am I what you want?”
GM: “We already have you, little toy.”
The woman’s electric fingers slide below her skirt.
“We can do what we want with you.”
Celia: “Of course—of course you can.” Happy little toy. She can be their happy little toy. For tonight. For tomorrow. For as long as they want her. As long as she gets her mom back.
As long as this increasingly stupid, dangerous, deranged plan actually works out.
Her legs slide to either side of the woman’s lap. Just like last night. Only last night she hadn’t realized what they were. Last night it had just been two people in an apartment with a body and blood. Now it’s… she can’t think the word. Life and death, maybe. And not just hers.
“What about what I want to do with you?”
GM: The woman’s fingers give Celia’s nipple an incredibly hard pinch. She almost cries out in pain, but it feels good too. The rippling shudder of pleasure seems to reverberate all the way down to her back.
“And what do you want to do with us, little toy? What can your devious little imagination think up to keep us entertained?”
“Mmm. So we steal the woman, and she does things with us,” muses Chase.
Celia didn’t even notice when his fingers slid up her pussy, the touch was that light. They absently stroke against her inner walls, back and forth. She very much feels that.
Celia: When he puts it like that it’s not much of a deal. They already have her. Spread open. Pliant. Willing. She can’t bore them. Boredom means death, she’s sure of it.
Chase finds her slick. She makes the noises that they wanted last night, only this time they don’t have to ask. She does it on her own as they touch and caress and pinch, each touch eliciting a different happy noise. She tries not to think about what he is. What he can do to her. How close he is. How sharp those—they’re not real.
“Y-you’re right.” Her breath hitches. She can’t help it. “I’ll do things with you… but you know that.” She pauses for only a moment, long enough to catch her breath, to form the plan. “You don’t want someone who is going to run screaming. You want someone who can—who can handle themselves. Someone useful.”
She tilts her head to the side, brushes her lips against the woman’s neck.
“You got a look at my ID, Chase. You know who I am.”
GM: “Oh, there’s a happy little toy,” sounds the woman, her voice something between a purr and a snarl. Her fingers are like cattle prods as they crush Celia’s nipples mercilessly hard.
“Louder, toy. Louder. I want to hear you’re the happiest little toy in all the world.”
Chase holds his fingers to his nose and sniffs. He smiles and traces them along Celia’s nose before starting to massage her clit, so lightly it almost feels like a breeze that’s doing it.
“Why don’t you tell us who you are. In your words. With happy noises between, like my cousin wants.”
Celia: There is nothing enjoyable in the way her nipples are handled. It hurts. She bites her lip to muffle the sounds of discontent, but it doesn’t take long before her teeth release her lip and she screams the way they want her to. It’s half a moan, in truth, a pleading sound that’s just shy of whimpering.
Her tongue flicks out to taste his fingers when they’re that close to her face. She keeps her eyes on him.
“S-senator’s daughter,” she gets out as Chase trails his finger across her clit. Her hips jerk. “Judge’s granddaught—oh, owowowow—” air hisses from between her teeth. “And—and my dad, he—ah—he makes movies, if you—if you’re into tha-aaaaah—!”
The secret she’d never told anyone. She doesn’t know anything else about him, but she knows that her mom might be dying while these two fuck with her, and if she doesn’t have a good enough offer then it’s all in vain and she’s dead too. She prays that it’s enough. That they’re interested.
GM: The woman’s fingers start to massage and knead Celia’s breasts softly, gently, teasingly.
“Happy noises, little toy. Louder! You’re the happiest little toy in the entire world, aren’t you?”
Chase’s fingers start to rotate faster, harder. They feel like actual fingers against her now.
“Oh, that’s a twist. I wonder what Daddy would do if he knew.”
The woman slides a long-nailed finger up Celia’s vagina. There’s that instinctive flinch—those nails will have to hurt—but the pain doesn’t come. The undersides of the woman’s fingers are an altogether different sensation than the ends of the short-nailed man’s. They’re harder and more direct.
“That’s a lot of connected relatives our little toy has,” she says. “But if she was so connected to them… what would she need us for, to find a woman?”
“Tell us who you are, little toy. What can you do besides make happy noises?”
Celia: “Dance,” she says. The word is half a gasp, torn form her the moment the woman asks, said without thinking. How can she think with their hands on her like this? How can she answer their questions when all she wants to do is lay back and writhe and let their touch send her into sweet oblivion? They are predators and she is their prey, and never has that dynamic been so sweet.
But dance isn’t all she does.
And while they touch and tease and caress, between happy noises, she tells them.
She spins a web with her words. They are beautiful, beautiful monsters, and she is nothing if not a fan of beauty. She lets them hear her passion—for how they touch her, how they make her body obey their whims without a word, and her work. She tells them that she is a purveyor of beauty. That she can take a normal, plain, mundane thing and turn it into a work of art. That with crushed powders and liquid ink and metal tools she can turn anything into something more. Ordinary becomes extraordinary. Extraordinary becomes divine. She can sculpt and shape and taper with shadows, brighten and broaden with light.
Chase has his magic drinks, the woman has her magic touch, and Celia has magic in a black bag: bottles and serums and brushes. People are her canvas. Faces are what she sculpts. Man into woman, girl into boy, ugly into beautiful. She can shave off years, soften hard lines, illuminate the most alluring features until they shine. She can add luster or remove repugnance.
The wave builds inside her while she speaks. Her words grow more fervored as she tells these two beguiling, pulchritudinous beings who she is. It threatens to drown her. To pull her under, wash her away as if she had never been. Their good will is her only lifeline.
Her words pour forth in a torrent of need. A need for them to see her, to understand what she is, what she does. Not some playtoy, not her father’s daughter, not the doormat mask she has worn for years, but her. Devoted. Lovely. Conniving. A liar without lies. A spider who spins her own truths, who sets the traps and lets the flies come in. A survivor, who takes the 2-7 offsuit hand she has been given and turns it into victory.
All her life she has let people see just the mask, the one that kept her safe in her father’s household. She played small to let others feel big. She backed down to let other people win. It served her then, but it does not serve her now. She casts it aside and tells them her truth.
GM: Celia’s truth is majestic. Celia’s truth is beautiful. Her craft is beauty. How can it not be?
Her words weave a spell over the pair. Celia can see the rapture in their eyes. The lust. The fervor. The hunger.
“You are such a happy little toy!” the woman exclaims, her eyes glassy. The pressure builds through Celia’s loins, then explodes. She screams out her truth as the orgasm comes, soaking the woman’s fingers, who keeps stroking her, building her towards another climax. There are more words from her, from Chase. They come out in an incoherent rush, like wolves trying to talk.
“Happy, happy little toy!”
“Spider!” breathes Chase, pulling out the woman’s fingers and burying his mouth over Celia’s womanhood.
She’s off the woman’s lap. She’s lying down in the air. The woman is standing on the couch, holding Celia aloft, hands along her head and legs, head under the small of her back. Chase is on the ceiling, clinging to it with his fingers and feet like some impossible centipede. He pleasures Celia’s most intimate spots with his air-light tongue, and then suddenly there’s a sharp piercing sensation that makes Celia cry out, but there’s bliss too, all-consuming, like they’ve stuck a vibrator up her soul. It makes her giddy and lightheaded like Em must feel on his drug trips. She smells something coppery as the man hungrily slurps and laps.
“Happy, happy little toy!”
She’s not in the air. She’s on the rug. The woman straddles her, kisses her, pierces her. She feels that same sensation of pure bliss blossom through her neck as the woman’s electric touch resumes on her breasts, pinching and twisting and kneading. The man pleasures her lower lips, sucking ravenously as his tongue works like an artist’s brush, seemingly everywhere at once to create his masterpiece of pleasure. Celia wants to scream. Maybe she is. She probably is. Screaming her truth. Her pleasure. Her beauty. Their beauty. There is no difference. All is pleasure. All is beauty.
“Fuck, she’s sweet!” Chase raves. She isn’t sure how he’s talking clearly, because the sensation in her loins doesn’t abate. “It’s always worth getting them in the mood!”
“She’s the happiest—toy—in—the—world!” the woman exclaims. The bliss coursing through her neck ceases at those words. The loss is like a sword through her heart. Celia instantly wants to beg for it to resume, she can’t live without it, and it does, and it’s all the more sweet for that second of loss. Rapture shudders through her. Did she just cum again? How many times has she? How long has this even been going on? The coppery scent of her blood in the air is unmistakable. She catches glimpses of it, red over their faces and hands like so much makeup.
They love her.
They are killing her.
They adore her.
They are killing her.
But it is beautiful.
It is so, so beautiful.
“Show me, little toy,” purrs the woman. The rapturous sensations are suddenly gone, but the afterglow is like a bonfire, warming her to every inch of her bare skin (when did she lose her clothes?). She’s half-standing, the woman’s hand behind her head, all of her weight cradled in the woman’s hand like she weighs nothing. Celia can see her blood running down the woman’s perfect mouth, red and unmistakable.
“Work your magic.”
“Make me… more divine.”
Chase kisses the woman, lapping up Celia’s blood from her chin. There’s a low, almost playful growl in response, but her smoldering eyes rest firmly on Celia.
Her mom’s makeup kit must be around here somewhere.
Maybe she finds it. Maybe they do. The memories run through her hands like a soupy fog, like a half-forgotten dream just after waking up. The woman is seated on a chair in front of the bathroom mirror, tubes and bottles and brushes and containers all laid out. The “bag of goodies” to a younger Celia whose dad wouldn’t let her keep any at home. She can barely stand. She looks so, so pale in the mirror, and the red that’s all over her naked body definitely doesn’t come from a plastic container with the Pangloss logo.
“Make me more more divine,” repeats the woman.
That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Does this chocolate-skinned, wavy-haired, emerald-eyed vision of perfection even need further work?
“And tell us about this… woman, you want to steal,” remarks Chase. His feather-light fingers drum along Celia’s shoulders as he runs a sampling tongue along her neck.
Gossip at the salon. That’s normal.
Celia: She is already divine.
It is a cruel test, a twisted joke after their blissful time together. How can Celia take what is already perfect and make it better? But that is her task, and she will not fail at her task. Not for them. Not for this goddess.
The difference between a good painting and a great painting is said to be five strokes. The question is thus: which strokes? How do you know when you have gone too far, when you cannot take the paint back from the canvas? It’s a delicate line to walk.
But the woman is not a painting. She is a person. And while you cannot take away from a painting, you can take away from a person. Thus Celia has her plan. The harsh lights in the bathroom shine down upon the woman, and Celia finds the perfection—the true perfection—within. She is the marble block from which Celia will create David. A pair of hairs below her brows are removed with the gentle pluck of a tweezer. The brows are sculpted, brought into the modern era, given more of an arch that compliments the heart-shaped face.
She does not soften. She hardens. This is no blushing bride, no rosy-faced prom queen. This is a predator, and Celia uses that thought as her guide. Her head swims, but her hand is steady: enhancing the cupid’s bow with a liner the color of the woman’s lips, then filling it in as if it had been there all along. A second color across the whole of her lips, but not red. There has been too much red. Blush, but not at the apples of her cheeks, because that will drag her whole face down and make her look dowdy. It is placed higher, along the cheek bone itself, with such a deft, light hand that it does not even appear to be there except when when she turns her head a certain way. She wets an angled brush and dips it into the darkest brown shadow her mother has, using it to fill in the little gaps of skin-colored pigment between the woman’s lashes.
It doesn’t take much. It is subtle. Tiny little tweaks to take her from pristine to flawless. She lets her brushes speak for her, lets them pay the homage to her beauty. She lets natural elegance shine through.
And as she works, she talks. Not of what she is doing. Not of what they have done to her. Not that she wishes they would take her back into the other room for another round of that.
No, she tells Chase what he wants to hear. The answer to his question: she talks about her mother.
“A dancer,” she says softly, “whose legs were broken by her captor. Art and grace cut short. Hamstringed.” Her voice does not betray the horror that she feels at the memories of her mother’s attack. “She escaped, but he has come back for her. The piece of paper could not protect her.”
The angled brush is set into a small pot of inky black. Her final stroke: across the lids, then just beyond, rising at a sharp line toward the tail of the brows.
Wings, because how could Celia deny this falcon her flight?
GM: The woman stares at her reflection in the mirror.
Then she’s gone.
Celia is slammed against the bathroom wall, her head audibly cracking against the plaster. There’s bliss in her neck again as fangs pierce skin, but hot and burning this time. The woman’s merciless hands grip, hold, and pull, like they are disassembling her. Black pinpricks blossom across Celia’s blurry vision. She’s growing cold. The woman is sucking out her fire. Sucking out her life.
But through the dark and distortion. Voices.
“…I want her!”
Hissed. Venomous. Burning.
The bathroom tiles slams up to meet Celia’s head as she crumples to the floor like a discarded doll. She hears glass shattering, pieces sprinkling everywhere like sharp confetti. There’s the shower curtain, that scrape of rings along the pole, the synthetic materials ripping and tearing. Cabinets smashing as they’re hurled. Glimpses of the falcon-like face, terrible in its wrath. More noises, from further in the house, as the woman mindlessly rampages and destroys.
Chase smirks down at Celia.
“Guess she likes you.”
Celia: Everything is farther away than it should be. The floor. The voices. Chase. Her vision swims in and out, black spots marring the colors. She is tender all over. Broken. She doesn’t understand.
Her tongue is too thick. Eloquence is lost. Maybe it was never there to begin with. Maybe this whole thing was an exercise in futility, and she has just served herself to these people on a silver platter. Her head is cocked at an angle, pain shooting up her spine, through her skull.
The lights are fading. She doesn’t want to die. Her vision is blurry with blackness and moisture. She reaches for Chase, the tips of her fingers lifting up off the cold tile of the bathroom floor. Reaches for him because the goddess is gone, on a war path, and he is all that remains, and if she is going to bleed out here on the floor she doesn’t want to do it alone.
She tried. But she’s so tired now. The darkness is coming to claim her.
GM: “…amn it. Broken you… already…” sounds a distant voice.
There’s suddenly warmth in her mouth. Fire. Ambrosia. Bliss. Mother’s milk.
“…rink up, she’s goi to… nyway…”
Celia: Liquid fire pours into her mouth. Fills her. Warms her from the inside out. The first drink is reflexive, her body obeying the laws of nature. She swallows it down and goes back for more. Slippery, wet, viscous. It slides down her throat in one smooth motion and she sucks, hard, at the source. Eager. Her limbs tingle, her body tingles, everything feels… different. Better. Like the night on Em’s couch, the joint in her hand, after she had finished coughing. Or her first time with Stephen, that first kiss on her bed, the slow stripping after their date. The words he’d just said to her in the car. Magic. She’s not cold anymore. She’ll burn, if that’s what they want.
GM: She isn’t on the floor anymore, either. She’s standing, supping ravenously from Chase’s bleeding wrist. She’s giddy. Delirious. Everything is better. Her head is clear. Her pains and aches are gone. Even her broken arm feels fine. She discards the splint. Everything is so clear, so sharp, so focused. She feels on top of the world, drinking the gods’ own mana straight down her throat.
Chase waits for several moments, then shoves her off.
It’s like a stab to the gut. She wants it. She wants it, so bad. He has to let her have it-
The goddess reappears.
She wasn’t there. Then she is. Her made-up, perfectly enhanced face is completely still, like she hadn’t been destroying Celia’s family’s home. There’s no calming down. It’s like a switch flipped. Just hot. Then cool.
“I don’t care about broken things,” she says flatly.
The words are like a slap across the face.
But she studies Celia.
“So we’ll make this interesting.”
They’re suddenly in the living room. The destroyed living room, not that Celia notices. The woman’s face is inches away from hers. She can make out every stroke, every tweak, every touch-up.
She really outdid herself here.
“I’ll give you power, little toy,” says the woman. “Three nights. You’ll be strong. Fast. Tough. Irresistible.”
“Once your fire gutters out, you’ll belong to me.”
“And if you acquit yourself well tonight, I’ll reward you with something extra. Once the time is right.”
Suddenly they’re on the couch again. The woman is on top of Celia, straddling her, those green eyes smoldering like hotly-stoked coals.
She licks her lips. Her fang pierces all the way through her tongue. Blood drips over Celia’s neck and chest. The woman licks her lips some more, smearing the blood all over like a sanguine lipstick.
“Kiss me. And we’ll have a deal.”
Celia: Three nights.
Three nights, and then her life belongs to the woman.
It already does. There’s no choice here. No choice but to agree, because not agreeing means everything she has endured is for nothing. And she wants to belong.
Celia does not hesitate. Her arms move to encircle her body. One low, around the waist, the other sliding her fingers through the woman’s hair. Her grip is strong. Sure. Confident. She leans in. Her lips slide against the blood on the other woman’s mouth, her own parting, tongue flicking out to taste her, to get another hit of the sweet red offering. She is as gentle as the woman was that first night: not at all. It is not a kiss. It is a contract. A promise. A declaration, punctuated by an exclamation.
GM: Their lips meet.
Celia becomes fire.
It burns through her veins, painful yet euphoric, scouring away weakness and leaving only ashes and burning in its wake. She is wind. She is stone. She is sublime.
“Robot dancer.” What a joke how Isabel called her that. She could dance en pointe. She could dance en pointe on a balance beam. She could leap off that beam to tackle a football quarterback, all coiled grace and savage strength, like a tigress on two legs. She’s both her parents in their primes, and maybe more too. Even the pangs of hunger and thirst are gone. So is any desire to just lay down her head and rest.
She is fire.
She is diamond.
Light. Hard. Beautiful.
The woman is gone, but Celia sees her rising and getting off this time, like a fast-frame movie suddenly playing in normal speed. Chase wraps his arms around her waist.
“I like the alias,” he smirks. “But you should pick something besides Cici. She was just pretending.”
The woman’s jade eyes smolder in agreement.
“Good luck, little toy,” she purrs.
“Tell anyone else about us and we’ll kill you.”
The door slams and they’re both gone.
There’s just Celia.
Tomato sauce from her mom’s knocked-over lasagna is spilled all over the floor like pooling blood.
Celia: Celia watches them go. They are no longer indistinct blurs, no longer invisible to her. She can see them move. It does not detract from their nature to see them move; they are still what they are, and she is still what she is. Only now she is on their level. Now she has a gift.
She stays where she is. Alone. Burning.
No, not burning. Smoldering, from the inside out. Like the woman’s jade eyes.
Chase is right. Cici was just pretending. Cici will die, and in her place Celia will become someone else.
Jade, she thinks. She does not want to be a diamond. Everyone has diamonds.
She will be Jade. Precious. Rare. Vibrant. Shifting and sultry, dark and light, hot and cold.
And just as pristine as any diamond.
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM
Celia: There is a list of things that Celia wants to accomplish. A list of problems she would like to fix. A list of issues that have come up around her that will be solved before her three days are up and her life belongs to the ebony goddess.
And she will make every second of those three days count.
Her mother’s house is in ruins, but she does not waste the time cleaning. She simply gathers her things, throws on an old dress and sandals, and goes. Back to Em’s, to find what she needs: the little baggies of coke in his sugar bowl. The weed, rolling papers, a lighter. A bottle of prescription meds that she can only assume he crushes and snorts. A camera, tripod, lighting equipment, leftover from the days of his ill-fated movie. She shoves it all into a bag.
First up: back to the dorm, to give the keys to Em, to check on Emily. She drives, even though she knows on some instinctual level that she does not need to. That she is just as fast as the beautiful beings who turned her into this.
She checks her phone while she drives.
GM: She retrieves the items from Em’s apartment without incident.
A showered and clean-smelling Emily lies fast asleep in her bed. The empty bottle of cheap whiskey is gone. Perhaps Celia could have postponed comforting her friend, but the expression on her face looks at peace, even if it is tired.
There are no messages on her phone.
Celia: Everything happens for a reason.
Celia will not beat herself up about the fact that she left to be with Emily. Emily is safe. Emily is healthy. Emily will be fine. And now Celia has the ace in her pocket, the thing that will give her advantage over Maxen. She leans down to kiss the sleeping girl on the forehead.
She sends a text to Em, asking where he is. She says she has his keys.
Then it’s down to the showers, to strip and rinse away the smell of sex. The water does not feel half as hot as the way they touched her, or whatever it was they gave her to as it slid down her throat. Blood. She knows it, deep in her gut, and even if she does not want to admit it to herself that does not make it false.
Once she’s clean she dresses in her own clothes, hanging her mother’s in the closet. She dresses as if she were going to dance, in a high-waisted leotard bottom, legwarmers that hit her mid thigh, and a pink cable-knit off the shoulder sweater. A black wraparound skirt that just brushes the tops of her legwarmers completes the look. Makeup follows, a natural look that makes her appear younger even than her 19 years, fresh faced and doe-eyed, with blushing cheeks and long lashes.
The goddess was hard, but Celia makes herself look soft. The promise of a good time, no fangs here.
She finds the clip that she had used to record her father’s abuse and slides it neatly into her hair, then she’s out the door. This time she runs. All the way to Stephen’s house.
It takes seconds.
GM: It’s an exhilarating run. It’s like being in a car without the car. Faster than a car. She skips and leaps and vaults over obstacles, blurs past pedestrians, even runs through traffic. Nobody seems to notice, though a few people stir at a seeming breeze. Celia can feel her heart pounding in her chest. She feels alive with every vault and leap and thump of her feet. It’s the best workout ever. She wonders how many calories she just burned. She barely notices the night’s cold. Southern Louisiana only gets so cold anyway.
Celia blurs to a stop at the Garrison family house and rings the doorbell several times. It’s eventually answered by Stephen’s father Henry. He’s wearing a bathrobe and pajamas as he opens the door to greet his son’s girlfriend with a slight frown.
“Celia? What is it at this hour?”
Celia: “Mr. Garrison, hello. I apologize for disturbing you at this hour. I would not be here if it wasn’t urgent.” Celia plasters on a pleasant smile. It’s forced, and he can see the concern in her eyes.
“Your son is missing. I know, you think I may be overreacting, and that… that is a possibility, sir, but the fact is that he was with me and then he disappeared, and he has been stalked in the past months, and I am deeply, deeply concerned that something has happened to him. If you’ve seen him… have you seen him?”
GM: Stephen’s father frowns deeply. “I haven’t. What do you mean that he’s been stalked? By who?”
Celia: “A woman.” A monster. “I don’t have the details, sir. I’m sorry. I thought maybe… maybe he was here, or he’d contacted you. He told me about the problem with the mafia, your history with them, and now that I can’t get ahold of him…” Celia blinks a few times. There’s moisture in her eyes she hadn’t realized was there. She can only help him if she can find him.
“I don’t know what it is, Mr. Garrison. I’m so sorry to disturb you. If you hear from him, can you call me? Let me know?”
GM: Color slowly drains from Mr. Garrison’s face.
But his jaw sets.
“Being notified of my son’s disappearance is not a disturbance, Celia. Now, the first 72 hours in any missing persons investigation are vital. When and where did you last see him? Have you been to his apartment?”
Celia: Celia gives him the information that he requests. She tells him that she hasn’t been to his apartment, that she was panicking and that she came here first. It’s a terrible excuse, she tells him, but that’s how it happened.
“I’m heading there now.” She gives him her phone number, tells him to call if he hears anything. “I’ll let you know what I find, Mr. Garrison.”
GM: “We’re heading there now,” corrects Mr. Garrison. “I don’t see your car. Did you take a bus here?” He then seems to dismiss the question as completely unimportant before saying, “I’ll throw on some clothes. Wait here.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t like being told what to do. She doesn’t need to wonder what Jade would do in this situation. She knows.
She is Jade.
“Mr. Garrison, the Mafia could call at any moment to ransom your son. If you’re not home, they won’t wait.”
There’s an edge to her voice. A sense of importance and authority that wasn’t there before, as if she knows.
“We went through training when I was young, because of my father’s position. Please, listen to the experts.”
GM: The 40- or 50-something decades-practiced Mafia-busting federal prosecutor, who’s the son of another decades-practiced Mafia-busting D.A., who’s taught Stephen everything he knows about the Mafia, who’s in turn taught Celia everything she knows about the Mafia (in less than a year), doesn’t correct the 19-year-old girl who’s dressed to look younger than her age, and who’s telling him to listen to real experts. Or correct her about state senators’ families being unlikely to receive training that Celia did, in fact, never receive.
Instead, he looks at her like she’s a real adult who actually knows what she’s talking about, and simply says, “The scenario you’re describing would be out of character for them. But I’ll tell Danielle to watch the phone in case.”
Celia: “Of course, sir. I will defer to your experience. Thank you.”
GM: Mr. Garrison is back in barely any time at all. She hears indistinct but clearly panicked questions and exclamations from Dani, but Mr. Garrison tells her to be calm and that time is of the essence. He tells her where he and her brother’s girlfriend are going. He gets into his car with Celia and drives. It’s a grim ride. He doesn’t talk except to ask more questions about the circumstances surrounding Stephen’s disappearance.
He’s also brought two guns.
“Do you know how to shoot?” he asks.
Celia: “Empty the clip. Fire until they stop moving,” Celia says to him. Her voice is steady. “But I only know the theory. After this, I will fix that shortcoming.”
And she will. She makes that promise to herself. There are too many things that go bump in the night for her to not know how to shoot a goddamned gun.
GM: That feels like something Jade would know, too.
“Okay. Several things for you to know,” says Stephen’s dad. “First, guns are much louder than in the movies. Enough shots in a short enough time can permanently damage your hearing if your ears are unprotected. Be prepared for noise. The barrel will kick backwards when you shoot it, which we call recoil or kickback. Keep your grip firm. The barrel will get hot, too. You should also…”
He tells her various other firearms safety and operations tips like he expects her to actually and potentially shoot. He does not tell her she is a danger to herself and others, and that it is an incredibly stupid idea for someone with no training to potentially fire a gun in combat.
Celia: Celia doesn’t tell him that she has two of her own tucked in her purse, so she supposes that makes them even.
She thanks him for the information, and her fingers dial the number for Stephen’s phone again while she listens.
GM: “Stephen knows how to shoot. He could teach you,” Mr. Garrison says.
His grip tightens around the wheel, though, when the phone only continues dialing.
Celia: “He will,” she tells him, “when this is over. When we find him.” There is calm assurance in her voice. A cold detachment, so at odds with the way she normally panics. She can handle this. As soon as she finds him, he will be safe.
GM: They arrive at Stephen’s apartment. Mr. Garrison has a spare key. Stephen is lying face-down in bed, still in his day clothes. Mr. Garrison turns him over and shouts, “Stephen! Stephen!” while actually feeling for a pulse.
Celia’s boyfriend gives a groggy, “Da…?”
“Stephen! Thank god you’re safe!” his father exclaims, wrapping him in a crushing hug. Celia can see the wetness in his eyes.
“Wh… Da, I’m fi…” he slowly grouses.
He looks really pale.
“Celia… wha’re you doi’ here…?”
His dad frowns. “Are you drunk?”
“Wha…? No, an’ I’m 22 anyway!” Stephen retorts defensively.
Celia: Celia recognizes that look. The pale, groggy, disappearing act. Everything clicks into place. His stalker. Emily’s actions, the complaints she made about being dizzy all the time, low energy, always sleeping.
Anger surges through her. Stephen is hers.
“He’s sick,” Celia cuts in, voice tight. “My roommate… I think passed it to him. He saw her today.” She presses the back of her hand to Stephen’s forehead.
GM: The concern returns to Mr. Garrison’s voice. “With what? What does he have?”
Celia: “Flu, maybe.” The lies come easier. “Stomach thing. Dizzy, Stephen?”
She apologizes to Mr. Garrison for wasting his time, for waking him up, for dragging him over here. She says again that she panicked. She’s just been so stressed, she tells him.
GM: “We know this way that he’s sick,” Mr. Garrison says, dismissing the apology. He asks Stephen if he’d like to spend the night at home (and the day, if he doesn’t feel better). Stephen says sure, and supposes that he does feel dizzy. Mr. Garrison offers Celia a ride back to Tulane once they’ve gotten his son to bed.
Stephen says Celia could stay the night, too. He obliquely sidesteps the subject of them sleeping together (around his father) when he mentions the house has “felt big since Mom left.”
Celia: It’s on the tip of her tongue to tell him to go back by himself and let her take care of his son. But Stephen being around his father is probably better in the long run. She tags along, holding his hand in the back seat of the car, rubbing small circles across his palms.
“I don’t want to presume,” Celia says to Mister Garrison, “but my roommate has been sick for a while and I haven’t caught it, so it’s possible I’ve built up an immunity. I can get him settled and see myself out in a few hours. I have an early class.”
GM: Mr. Garrison nods at that and reiterates his offer to drive Celia back to Tulane. He’s already awake and doesn’t think he’ll fall back asleep for a while, not after the scare he had. Dani cries and hugs her brother when she sees that he’s home. He comforts her as best he can. He’s feeling really out of it.
Stephen is happy for Celia to settle him to bed. He’s feeling pretty low energy, though, and not up for any fooling around. But “maybe a BJ would get me feeling better…?” he asks with a hopeful grin.
Celia: Celia kisses his cheek instead.
“Tell me what happened. After you left the dorm.”
GM: “Oh c’mon… I’ll go down on you next time, promise…”
Celia: “Stephen. It’s really important. Was it the girl?”
Celia: “Your stalker.”
GM: “Uhhh…” he responds tiredly.
Celia: Her hands move beneath the blankets. She knows how to keep him up.
“C’mon, baby, tell me.”
GM: He gives a half-lidded grin. Several moments later,
“Y-yeah… I think I saw her, actually…”
“What else do you remember?”
GM: He blinks.
“Uhhh… not a lot… disappeared ’gain.”
Celia: “How’d you get home?”
GM: “Took m’ car…”
“I… my memory’s funny…”
Celia: Celia reaches out to touch his cheek, rubs her thumb across his lower lip.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. You get some sleep. We’ll get it sorted.”
She moves her hand away to replace it with her lips, just a chaste kiss before she pulls back.
“I have to go. I love you. Call me if you think of anything else.”
GM: Stephen groggily asks what’s up with her family. Her mom seemed worried that her dad would do something.
Oh. They didn’t have dinner. That’s too bad.
He hopes Celia’s family members are all okay, though.
“Love you too,” he mumbles as he goes to sleep.
Celia: How many times had they done this to him? All those nights he never called or texted. All the nights Emily disappeared and slept all day.
Are there nights missing from her own memories? None that she can think of. Just the few with the man who came from the darkness. And if he’s the same as these other things…
Monsters. Monsters hunting her friends. Hurting them. Her friends. Her boyfriend. Her family, if she isn’t mistaken.
She’s on their level now.
She’ll fucking kill them all.
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM
Celia: Celia shoots Em a text.
Where’d you go? Have your keys.
Emmett: At a bar. keep em, i’ll be okay. You need me around?
Emmett: what, do you have another friend who needs help in the bathroom
Celia: oh im sry r u mad i left to find out my mom was kidnapped
ur rite my bad
Emmett: He calls her.
Celia: She lets it ring. Listens to her ringtone. Dances a little. Finally picks up.
Emmett: “Goddamn, really?” he asks.
Celia: “Really ‘Hi’ or really ‘was your mom kidnapped by your psycho dad because you decided to help your roommate instead’?”
Emmett: “Did I rub off on you when I wasn’t looking, or did you just get meaner?” Em’s still coming down, with the help of an Irish coffee. He eyes the bartender and mimes for the check.
“How do you want to play this?”
Celia: “Do you want to rub off on me? I recall you turned me down last time.”
“I have a plan.”
GM: Yeah. That’s definitely meaner.
Emmett: “What is up with you? Normally I’m the only asshole in these conversations.”
And also, okay, maybe a little bit.
“What plan? Should I meet you?”
Celia: “Cécilia’s mom turned me down. So I made a different friend.”
She lets the words hang. Maybe he’ll get it.
Emmett: She can hear him stiffen in all the wrong ways. “What did you do, kid?”
No matter that they’re the same age. He sounds… scared. It’s not a good sound on him, even if it’s a touching one.
Celia: “Can’t tell, it’s a secret.” Her voice is sing-song. She even giggles. It sounds different. “Where are you? I’ll meet you.”
Emmett: She can hear his hesitation warring with his curiosity in the heartbeat that follows.
“Pick me up outside Soulé… Cici?”
He doesn’t mean to make it into a question, but he does.
The line disconnects.
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM
Emmett: He’s waiting for her, wrapped in a relaxed-looking leather jacket that makes his arms look bigger than they are. He looks as close to sober as she’s ever seen him. Or maybe that’s just his mood.
Celia: “Hey, Em.”
Her voice comes from behind him. There’s no car in sight. She’s dressed as if she were headed to the dance studio, complete with leotard, wrap skirt, and legwarmers up to her mid-thigh. A gray purse is slung across her chest, its strap settled right between her breasts.
She smiles at him, and the smile shows the natural looking makeup on her face, carefully applied to make her look younger. More innocent. She leans in.
“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”
Emmett: “Not at all,” he says slowly, looking her over. “You seem… not terrified, right now. By your mom being kidnapped, and all.”
Celia: “Mmm,” she agrees, nodding. “I have a plan. I stole your drugs, by the way. I hope you don’t mind. Just a few. I’ll pay you back, but timing and all that.”
“I brought your keys.” She holds them out.
Emmett: “Wait, that’s… thanks… and also, what drugs? Not like ‘what drugs,’ like I don’t know what you’re talking about, but like, which drugs? And also, why?”
Celia: “Daddy’s out of jail,” she says flatly, “and I need a way to keep him there. Back up plan. Plans within plans.” She pauses, looks past him into the cafe.
“We should speak somewhere less public.”
Emmett: He glances over his shoulder at the restaurant they visited just last night. “I know a spot.”
“Oh. That’s what you were suggesting.”
Celia: “Was I?” She takes his hand, tugs him along toward his own apartment.
Emmett: “…oh. Okay, that works too.” When they’re inside he scratches at the back of his neck. “Um, can I get you something? A drink? Some of your innocence? If I can find it.”
Celia: “It’s in the bar,” she tells him, “with the guy who raped me last night.” Her head tilts to the side. “Or maybe with my daddy, when he started beating me. Or maybe,” she says slowly, “it’s with the only two other people I care about in the world, who both have the same symptoms of illness. Something must be going around.”
Emmett: “Yikes,” he mutters, pouring one for himself. He doesn’t drink it, though. He has a feeling now’s a bad time to. But it’s nice to hold in his hand. “Maybe I was patient zero, then. I haven’t been innocent for a year.”
“What’s your plan? Set Maxen up as a coke dealer? It’ll be hard, but I can see us doing it. If you can get him out of the house while I plant the shit.”
Celia: “He has the kids. And my mom. Isabel set them up.”
Celia wants a drink. She should have told him so. She pours one for herself, but doesn’t taste it as she takes her first sip.
“Did I tell you that I have video evidence of him abusing me? I was thinking of doing something similar. Rape. Drugs. Reasoning with him. Telling him to back down. And if not… well, I guess I just end him.”
Emmett: “Well, you say that,” Em says.
Then he peers at her.
“You really are saying that. What happened? What other… friends were you talking about?”
Celia: Celia raises her brows. She takes a drink. Back to that old game.
Emmett: “Fuck,” he says softly. It takes him a second. “Fuck. Are you gonna be okay?”
Celia: For the first time since she showed up behind him there’s doubt in her eyes. She drinks again, but it’s only to cover the way her lower lip trembles for just a second.
“I don’t know,” she says honestly. “If I do well, maybe.”
Emmett: “Okay,” he says. “Well… what can you tell me?”
Celia: “I don’t know. If I tell, I die. That’s the rule. And I don’t know how specific they are about that rule, if it just means them or all of them. But… we were right. About what we said about them.”
Emmett: “Okay,” he says again, like that was helpful. “What’s your plan with Maxen? Talk me through it.”
Celia: He isn’t getting it. Celia smiles at him. Shows a little too much teeth.
“I took your camera.”
Emmett: He smiles back in confusion. They both grin at each other unhappily.
“What are you going to goad him into doing?”
Celia: “Rape,” she says again. “Drugs. You had coke.”
Emmett: “You’re going to get him to rape you?”
Celia: “Mmhmm. Tragic, isn’t it?”
Emmett: “Jesus. How are you even going to do that? And… why? Can’t you frame him for the other shit? And…”
He hesitates, but he asks. Like a fucking chump, he asks.
“And, what do you want me to do?”
Celia: “You don’t think I can get him to?” Celia bites her lower lip. “You don’t think I’m cute enough for him to want to fuck me?” She trails a hand down her chest, right between her breasts. “Don’t you want to fuck me, Em?”
Celia turns it on. Whatever charm they gave her, whatever it was the woman did to her that makes her irresistible, she taps into that now. She wants Em to want her. She wants him to want her because of last night when he turned her down. She wants him to be so into her that she is all he can think about.
He wasn’t into her broken self. He didn’t like the pity party that she invited him to. But this? This person that she is now, this confident, catty bitch? Oh. He wants that, because she tells him that he does.
She glides across the room to him, takes the drink from his hand. Sets it down on the counter. Her hands start at his shoulders, work their way down his chest. Both hands. He hasn’t even commented on her lack of sling. She wants him to pay closer attention to her. The jacket is the first thing she takes off, sliding it down his arms to pool in a leather pile behind him.
“Tell me,” she whispers in his ear, “tell me that you want to fuck me. Tell me how after I left last night you thought about pinning me up against the wall with my legs around your waist.”
Emmett: He does, already, but he starts to shake his head, starts to say something catty and self-assured that’s code for, “You’re too good for me.”
But then she does the thing.
Her breath is sweeter than absinthe when it touches his ear. He wants her to whisper more things, say his name more, wants to see her name in his mouth, wants…
…he hasn’t wanted anything this much for so long. He’s lost in it, the wanting, the thing that leads him from disaster to disaster. The wanting is the only part of life that he’s good at.
“I did,” he says, his breath tickling her neck. “Fuck, I did. I thought you would hate me. I didn’t want you to hate me but I wanted to fuck you so so bad. I want to now. You’re so…”
He’s grabbing at her, clumsy, like he’s just waking up.
“I’m sorry,” he tells as he holds her, twirls her like they’re still in the Paris Room. “I’m sorry I didn’t.”
Celia: There’s something endearing in the clumsy way he touches her. The way he fumbles, falling all over himself to apologize, to explain his behavior.
As if she cares.
He turned her into this thing when he turned her down last night. Sent her running right into the arms of someone else. Something else. A monster.
And, oh, how magical that was.
Laughter, light and giddy, bubbles up from inside of her, spilling past her lips as he spins her around. She twirls him, too, pushes him back with a hand on his chest until he’s against the wall she mentioned. Her lips are at his throat, fingers deftly pulling the shirt from his body. She doesn’t kiss. She nibbles. Bites. Sucks. Leaves a trail of marks on his neck until she reaches his jaw, the corner of his mouth, his lips proper.
“Hush,” she whispers to him, “happy noises, now. Make it up to me. Show me a good time, Em.”
Emmett: Something in him recoils. Something is confused.
But it is something quiet, next to the wanting.
He almost throws her on the couch, falls to his knees and pulls at her skirt. His mind scrambles over the hours of whoring, the various positions and tips he’s accumulated.
“Happy noises?” he asks.
Celia: Her skirt comes off in one smooth motion, one easy tug. Her fingers hook around the waistband of the black leotard and pull that off, too, and she is bottomless in front of him, smooth and slick and already spreading her thighs so he can get between them with his tongue. She lays back, watching, expectant.
Emmett: He tears at her and pulls himself between her legs even as she’s making way for him.
“You might not be able to hear me,” he says, and then he starts.
It’s one of the first things Christina had made sure he knew how to do. Had frankly offered to have a girl practice with him, a minor sunk cost for the profits he could turn. Sometimes that was all the date really wanted, after all.
To be worshiped.
He worships her, and the noises he makes might be prayers, and they are panicked, hungry, and happier than any she has ever heard him make.
Celia: In the end, Em isn’t the one who makes those noises. It’s her. Her lips parting as he moves his tongue between her legs. Her panting, gasping, writhing on the couch, knuckles white where they grip the cushion. Her nails dig into it.
Worship is right. He’s on his knees like she’d be on Sundays at church, and the irony isn’t lost on her that this is the same sort of sin she’d burn for. It isn’t the same as the feather-light touch of Chase, the knowing teasing from the woman, it’s a skill all his own. Different. Devoted.
She loves it. Not him—but what he’s doing. The way he’s doing it. The ensnaring power she has over him. Will it and it happens. Delicious. She says his name, “Em,” nothing more than a breathy whisper. She puts a hand against his head, pushing him away. She wants to know how far it goes.
Emmett: He stops, his lips and cheek slick with her, his expression frozen with uncertainty. His eyes flicker over her, desperate but worried. “Is… something wrong?”
Did I fuck up again?
She can see it in his eyes. He will beg for her.
Celia: She wants to hear him beg. Wants him to make up for the time he shot her down. It’s a mean, cruel thing she wants him to do, to crawl and plead and beg to be allowed to touch her. She almost tells him to.
But it’s enough knowing that he will.
She rises in one fluid movement, holds out her hand to him, has him down on the couch before he can complain. Her fingers undo the belt, buttons, zipper, and she has his pants down his legs and tossed aside. She kneels between his legs instead, presses her lips to the inside of his thigh. Then takes him into her mouth.
Emmett: He’s undone. Naked as the first time they met, his eyes fierce with pleasure. He loses himself to her. He lets himself be stolen.
When they’re done, he’s crying. Not heavily, not sobbing, just tearing gently. He doesn’t even seem to notice, and if she was to point it out to him, he’d admit he has no idea why.
“You’re magic,” he tells her, after it makes sense to talk again. “Fuck. I’ve never met anybody like you. That could do that to me.” He’s wrapped around her, holding her tightly to him on the couch, their clothes still discarded. “I fuck for a living. And I would go broke trying to pay for that.”
Is that romantic? He can’t tell. He’s too relaxed to lie.
Celia: Magic. She likes the sound of that. She likes being magic, being worshiped, being desired. It’s a heady, intense rush, and that’s after everything they just did to each other, the moves he showed her from his months of whoring and the evening she spent as a toy.
She could get used to this.
Emmett: Then he frowns. “Wait, so you’re still trying to get your dad to fuck you?”
Celia: The tension returns to her face as he asks about her dad.
“You don’t think it’s a good idea? State senator caught raping his own daughter, evidence of drugs and abuse?”
Maybe she’ll make him take Isabel instead. Really show her how much Daddy loves her.
Emmett: He hesitates. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, for what you’re trying to achieve. It’s just, well, do you want to do that to yourself? Even outside it being incest, you’d be… well. You’d be getting fucked.”
Even if you can turn him on, he thinks but doesn’t say.
Celia: “He’s not my real dad,” Celia says flatly.
Celia: “Just the fuck who raised me.”
Emmett: “He is that.”
“But do you… want to? Still.”
Celia: “Do I want Maxen Flores’ red, shining face hanging over me while he grunts?” She laughs. “No.”
Emmett: He laughs, too. “God, with that bald-ass head, too. I’ve seen him on TV. He probably looks like a football when he’s fucking.”
“I mean, besides, that would also sink your own reputation. You don’t want that.”
Celia: “Nothing by half-measures. If I ask him to do it I’m sure he’d try to show me a good time. And isn’t that fucked. You think he’ll lay me down on a couch like this, use his tongue like you—”
He cuts her off. She pauses.
“I should just gut him.”
“Take his leg off with a saw the way he did to my mom.”
Emmett: He strokes absentmindedly at her face, her hair.
“You’re beautiful,” he says. “And you’re scaring me.”
He hugs her, tries to bring her closer than she already is, pressing her to him.
“I don’t want you to have to regret anything. Promise me you’ll let me help. Let me do the worst of it, if it comes to that.”
Celia: “I’ve got three days, Em.”
She sinks into him. Into the comfort that he offers, the warmth that he provides, the friendship that she needs right now. Someone who will do anything for her, who wants to help, who she can call at three in the morning when she’s just been raped and he comes running. Something like guilt washes over her at what she’d just done to him. Made him do.
She’s just as bad as they are. Was this the deal? Trade her soul, her morals, her everything for a chance at revenge? She’d been sweet once, hadn’t she? When she first met him. He’d called her a doe.
Now she’s… a rat, maybe.
She clings to him, holds him close, presses her cheek against his chest. It’s not real, but she wants it to be. He’d told her once that he was hung up on someone, that only one person could love him because she was just as fucked up as he is, and she wonders if that’s true for her now too.
“Three days and then I’m not me anymore. It’s like they’re inside me. Taking over.”
Emmett: “Then I’ll find a way to keep you you,” he says. “I’ll stay with you. I’ll help you remember yourself. You won’t be alone.”
“But just… take a breath now. You have three days? That’s basically forever.” He says it like a teenager saying they have all weekend.
Except, they are teenagers. Both of them.
Celia: “You can’t be near them. Em, they can’t know about you. They’ll destroy you. Whatever bad things you’ve done, they’ll do worse. Believe me. They’re the monsters that we thought they were.”
She pulls back just far enough to look into his eyes.
“Promise me, Em. You won’t get involved with them. When they come for me, you won’t come looking. Here, now, this is fine. This is us. But out there? They’ll kill you.”
Emmett: “I won’t go looking for them,” he says. “Not if you come to me. Keep yourself you. Don’t let them take that from you. Do what you have to, kill and fuck your way through the people stupid enough to stand in it, but don’t forget who you are. Promise me, that.”
Celia: She nods her head, then tucks it back against him so he can’t see the doubt in her eyes. She doesn’t know if she can promise him that. She’s already spiraling out of control.
Emmett: “So,” he says. “What do you need from me?”
Celia: “I wasn’t planning on taking you with me. Could be dangerous. There’s a… I think he has a friend, too. Like mine. Can’t go at night. But he has my mom, the kids. God only knows what he’s doing to them right now.”
Panic won’t serve her. She breathes, like he always tells her to.
“I think they’re after Stephen and Emily, too.” Everyone around her is in danger. Em now, too.
“I waited too long. Should have gone there first.”
Emmett: He pauses.
“Night, you said. Are they… not a problem… during the day?”
He rubs her arm, calmly. Tries to make her feel safe.
“That means we can wait a few hours. For morning. We can have Miranda hack him. Figure out what he’s been saying on his phone. To his lawyers. Whatever. I might be able to bribe some of his guards, too—y’all live in Audubon, right? I know a guy in Blackwatch.”
She hadn’t put it into words. Not what she had seen. Not yet. She doesn’t know that she wants to. Isn’t that telling? It’s against the rules.
“I don’t know,” she admits. “I think, maybe, they might not be. I tried to talk to Miranda. But she—God, she’s crazy. I don’t trust her, not to sit on something if it needs to be. If you think you can reign her in, fine. Who’s your guy in Blackwatch?”
She doesn’t know why she asks. She doesn’t know any of them.
“Wait, how well do you know him? Would he… can he check the house? See what’s going on?”
Emmett: “I can talk to Miranda,” he assures her. “She’s crazy, but I am too, and our crazies can talk to each other.”
“And yeah. I’m not sure if it’s the best way, you know, witness and all that, but I can probably find a way to get you intel on the house.”
He runs his fingers through her hair, tracing where it touches her spine.
“If you kill him…you have to assume you’ll be found out. Just the way these things go. You won’t be able to lie. So we’ll have to run.”
There’s no discussion in that we when he says it.
Celia: That we warms her more than it should. Or maybe it’s the hand he has on the back of her neck, or the other arm around her, or the encore of their evening together playing in her head.
What would it be like to run, to leave all of her problems behind, start up somewhere else with him? How long before he realizes what she did to him and hates her for it?
“I can’t run,” she sighs. “I made a deal. But I might know someone who can get us intel on the house. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to him, but maybe…”
Emmett: “Maybe?” he prompts.
Celia: “Maybe he’ll talk to me. He’s kind of… weird. Used to tutor me. Good with computers.”
Maybe she should have reached out to him instead of Miranda.
Emmett: He nods, thinking of Emil. “Computer people are super weird.”
He kisses her forehead, and hugs her. “Wake me when you decide to make your move. I’ll follow your lead. Just… try to think about things before you do them.”
Advice he has never followed, and which feels alien to say.
But it’s the kind of thing somebody should have said to him, at some point.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what she says. He holds her, and strokes her hair, and doesn’t say anything for the rest of the night.
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, AM
Celia: It isn’t until Em has fallen asleep, conked out after their planning session at Celia’s insistence, that the guilt finally hits her. It had come up while they were on the couch, but now it’s overwhelming. Crippling.
She raped him.
She knows it on some instinctual level, that what she did to him isn’t right, isn’t normal. It’s because of the deal she made with the ebon-skinned goddess. It’s some evil part bubbling up inside of her. Jade, she called herself, and isn’t that a riot. Hard and cruel, just as cruel as the demonic monster that gave her the power. And, God, what beautiful power it is. Em was helpless before her. Ensnared. On his knees, worshiping. It was magnificent, beautiful…
Terrifying that it consumed her so fully. Terrifying that people exist who have these powers, that they can do these things to others, that a plea to save her mom has turned her into this. A monster in her own right. Does that make it right? Does the end justify the means? Or is she damned now, her soul destined to burn forever in the fiery pits of Hell like Father Michael preaches every Sunday?
He turned her down. She was raped. And she raped him in return.
It’s an ugly word. She thought so when it happened, when she told him about it, and thought she might be ugly too. Unclean. She knows now that it was the truth.
She made a deal with the devil for salvation and instead she turned to sin.
She leaves Em where he lays in untroubled sleep to search her face in the mirror above his bathroom sink. The light is harsh. It washes her out. Shows the scars on her face from all the time she picked at the acne as a teen. Are the marks bigger now? Can people see the corruption, the rot inside of her? Eating her away from the inside, turning her into just as much of a twisted, evil thing as Chase and the woman.
She’s a rapist.
The urge to smash the mirror wells up inside of her. She lifts a hand—then turns away before she can do something stupid. It isn’t the mirror’s fault. It’s hers. The mirror is just showing her the truth of what she is, what she’s becoming. Sharing blood with that thing took every bit of her clarity away.
And soon she’ll belong to it. To her. Forever. That’s what she said. Three days of freedom, of power, and then captivity. To the hot and cold, raging, powerful, beautiful predator.
It will destroy her.
Maybe she deserves that.
She needs to go to her mom. To get her out. That should have been her first visit. Not the dorm, not Stephen, not Em. Her mother is her priority, like she should have been all along. Too afraid of her father finding out she has an illegal boyfriend than standing up to him. She had the clip. She should have buried him.
Should have done it differently.
And deep down she knows why she didn’t: that thing in the darkness. That man who wore her father’s face, who tucked her into bed, who let her daddy get away with trying to murder her mom. He’s there. Waiting. She can feel it.
She isn’t a child anymore. He won’t put her to bed and kiss her goodnight. He’ll put her head through the wall. Break every bone in her body. Rip into her with his fangs.
She will be powerless to stop it. She’ll want him to do it. She remembers what it felt like when the woman was drinking her dry. When Chase bit into her. She didn’t want them to stop, didn’t want it to ever end. Even when the dark spots began to blur her vision she still wanted him, her, them to hold her as she died. She would have done anything for them. Anything to keep it going.
She will not go down like that. Not to this thing that destroyed her family. They would be whole, happy, healthy if not for him.
She will wait until dawn. Wait until the sun’s rays scorch the earth and drive the monsters back beneath the bed. And then she will hunt him down, and she will end him.
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