“Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie.”
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
GM: Dani is gone when Celia wakes up, but she’s left a note saying she’s at Diana’s house for the dinner with Henry. That’s still on.
There’s no texts from Roderick.
There’s one from Alana, though, about how much she misses Celia.
Dinner is pretty soon, and already a later one by kine standards. Any hunting looks like it will take place after that’s over.
There’s a text from her mom, though, saying she’s also prepared a helping of “your new favorite food! :)” to serve tonight.
Celia: She didn’t expect a message from Roderick. She tells herself it’s okay. He’d done this once when they were kine, too. Didn’t answer. Then just showed up. Maybe he’s doing that again.
She tries to ignore the fact that it’s the night her mom was kidnapped.
Celia keeps scrolling, looking for an answer from Mel. She checks in on the boys while she’s at it.
GM: Mel has responded in an affirmative, Put you on the schedule.
Reggie says there’s good news and asks where and when she wants to meet.
Celia: She breathes a sigh of relief on both counts.
Her mother gets a heart response back. Alana does as well. Reggie gets a comment about after dinner.
She should have time before Elysium, she thinks.
Speaking of time… not much to waste before she’s late. She rises, showers, and dresses, keeping it elegant but casual. A nice dress. Nothing crazy. Nothing that Jade would wear, but still cute. Perfume. Heels.
It’s as she’s putting the finishing touches on her jewelry that she realizes she has the wrong face on. She huffs, fixing it, and touches up her makeup.
GM: It’s not the first time she’d have forgotten who she’s supposed to be.
Who even is she, anyway?
Celia: Celia, tonight.
That’s what the mirror says.
GM: Mirrors lie too.
She drives to her mom’s house and arrives to find the table set. Emily greets at the door with a hug and a “Damn, you look nice.” The smell of garlic and other savory scents hangs heavy in the warm, oven-heated air. Some windows are open to let it out. Diana and Lucy have kitchen aprons on as they toss a fruit salad together.
“Oh good, you’re here!” smiles her mom. “Hey Goose, let’s say hi to…”
The six-year-old hops off the kitchen stool, runs up to Celia, and seizes handfuls of her dress as she tries to clamber up the Toreador’s body like she’s scaling a rock wall.
“Oh, Luce, careful with her dress,” says Emily, scooping up the child to pass her to Celia.
“Dani’s arriving with her dad,” adds Diana with a smile for Lucy. “Say, sweetie, where’s your beau? Is he arriving on his own?”
Celia: It’s hard not to smile at the warm welcome, even if the oven makes her wary after everything she has found out and the thick smell of spices reminds her that she’s on a liquid diet for the rest of her unlife. Her Beast whines at her, reminding her that it wants blood, that she can play at being human all she wants but they both know the truth.
And these kine! They put themselves so close to her. Hugging. Holding. Smiling.
She smiles back, greeting her adoptive sister, accepting the offer of the child into her arms. How easy it would be to—
No, Celia reminds herself. Not them.
She spins the girl around with her, the hem of her dress lifting to swirl outward, and smothers the child’s face with kisses.
“Mwah, mwah, mwah!” She finds the tickle spot on her belly. “Here’s my little artist. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of compliments on that picture you drew me, you know. Gonna need to commission another.”
She keeps the child in her arms as her attention turns to her mother, offering a wry half-smile.
“I think so,” she says with an effected sigh. “He might be caught up at work, some big case I guess.”
GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms as Celia spins her around.
“Okay! I can draw lots more! Did ’Lana like it? And Landen?”
Alana didn’t have a word to say on it. Piper, Landen, Madison, and Natalie always have the most compliments for Lucy-related things.
Celia: “‘Lana was jealous I don’t hang her art,” Celia confides in a whisper.
GM: Lucy giggles some more. “Mine’s better.”
“It sure is, Goose. Best artist in the salon,” says Emily, tussling the girl’s hair.
“Best artist in this house, too,” adds Diana, smiling at Celia’s news. “Okay, good. We’re all really looking forward to meeting him!”
“Are you an’ Randy still friends?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says to her daughter. “We still have a place together that I need to discuss with him. Figure some things out. We might still be friends. I think we both knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but we were comfortable.”
GM: “Oh,” says Lucy in a not quite understanding tone.
“Are he an’ your boyfriend gonna be friends?”
“That’s usually tricky,” Emily answers wryly.
“That usually is,” Diana echoes. “Say, sweetie, would you like to do my makeup? Doesn’t need to be anythin’ too fancy, home dinner and all, but Stephen’s dad is an important man and I want to look good!”
Celia: They certainly won’t be friends if Roderick tries to kill Reggie again.
“I’d love to,” Celia says to her mom. “No harm lookin’ good for the cute man coming over, right Emi?” Celia winks at her adoptive sister as she sets Lucy back on the ground so she can follow her mom down the hall to her room.
GM: “Yep. Knock him dead, Mom,” smirks Emily.
“Oh, you two,” says Diana with an amused roll of her eyes.
“They should just hold hands,” says Lucy.
Emily scoops up the child and carries her back to the kitchen area while Diana leads Celia back to the vanity in her bedroom. Dani’s clearly taken much of it over, though, judging by the presence of her various personal effects.
“I thought I’d feed you once dinner is over, sweetie,” says Diana as she sits down before the mirror. “So it’s like dessert, after a so-so meal.”
“And it usually makes me a lil’ woozy, so better after company’s gone.”
“I feel good, though! Energy levels were just fine at work. I think we can make this a nightly thing,” she smiles.
Celia: She’s hardly going to say no to the offer of blood. Especially if it doesn’t bother her mother at all.
“If you’re sure,” she says after a moment of looking the woman up and down, as if for signs of illness. “Okay. I’d like that. Thanks, Mom.”
GM: Diana looks more than fine to her.
“Thank you, sweetie. I want to feed you,” she says, taking off her apron and draping it nearby.
Celia: “I don’t know if Stephen is coming.” She turns away, gathering her mother’s makeup supplies. It’s not a full kit like Celia’s, but the mother of an esthetician still has plenty to choose from.
GM: The mother of an esthetician indeed has plenty of cosmetics (every last one a Flawless-recommended brand), though the disappointment on her face is plain at Celia’s news.
“Oh. Why not?”
Celia: The disappointment is echoed in her daughter’s.
“We got some bad news last night. He didn’t come home. Dani and I spent the night together, and she said he got like this last time. Withdrawn.”
GM: “Oh, no. I’m so sorry!” exclaims her mom. “Is there anything we can do for him?”
Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says with a long sigh and shake of her head. “But if there is I’ll let you know.”
GM: “Please, do. How are things between the two of you? Still okay?”
Celia: “I think so.”
She hopes so.
GM: Her mom rubs her arm. “Okay. That’s good. I think that will mean a lot to him. Bad news is a little less bad when you have a love of your life to help you past it, at least.”
Celia: “Can’t be there for him if I can’t find him.”
“Was going to look after dinner.”
GM: “Oh. You don’t know where he is?” her mom asks with a worried look.
Celia: “No. I mean. I have a few places. I’m sure he does too.”
GM: “Do you still want to stay for dinner? I’m more than happy to have you over, but if you want to use the time for your beau, I completely understand.”
Celia: “There’s a function tonight, I’m sure he’ll be there if nothing else.”
Except he can’t be there as “Roderick” since his face is different.
Which means he has to seek her out if he wants her to change it back.
“I’m not blowing off dinner. He’s a big boy. He can handle himself.”
“I don’t need Mr. Garrison thinking I’m afraid of him or something.”
GM: “Okay,” her mom nods, “just thought I’d offer. I want your two’s relationship to work.”
Celia: “Kind of hoping he just shows up. I know he wants to see his dad again.”
GM: “I hope so too, I’d love to see him again! Is there anything in particular I should do around him, since, you know, vampire?”
Celia: “Don’t bleed, mostly. I didn’t tell him about you, either. I don’t want to lie to him, but Pe—er, my friend doesn’t think it’s safe.”
“But his clan is the angry clan.”
Celia works on her mother while they talk, using an array of brushes, powders, and pigments to give her a casual but flirty look. She keeps it toned down and suitable for her mother’s age and the fact that they’re staying in. One of those, “oh I just threw this on” looks.
GM: “Okay, don’t bleed or bring up vampire things,” her mom nods, sitting still before the mirror as her daughter does her face. “Oh, this looks very nice, sweetie. Pretty, but doesn’t look like we’re tryin’ too hard to be pretty either.”
Celia: “I’m glad you like it.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her mother’s ear. “Would it bother you if I told him about you?”
“And maybe… Dad?”
GM: “That I’m an, ah, ‘ghoul’,” her mom starts, then gives a little laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry, it just feels like such a funny name, still.”
“But no, I’d be fine if Stephen knows! I think he already knows all the dirty details when it comes to your father too, anyway.”
“I mean, he was there back when I was livin’ in that cruddy lil’ apartment.”
Celia: “He thinks it’s a bad idea to have him over on Sunday.”
GM: Her mom purses her lips slightly. “Emi thinks so too, I know.”
Celia: “I’m worried he’s going to try something with Lucy. Because of that vision you had.”
“If she wasn’t on the line I’d risk it, but now I’m just… nervous.”
GM: “You seemed to think it was a good idea earlier, sweetie. Did somethin’ happen to change your mind?”
Celia: “No. I guess not. I’m talking to someone tonight who knows more about it. And I’ll see the guy who, uh, claimed him at this event, so maybe I can… talk to him.”
As if she’d dare.
GM: “Okay, that all sounds good,” nods her mom. “Oh, say! I looked into that ‘glinko’ thing for you while I was at work, sweetie.”
Celia: “Oh? How’d that go?”
GM: “Well, I realized I wasn’t sure how you spelled it. Was it ‘g-l-i-n-k-o,’ or was it a ‘c’ instead of a ‘k’, or was it a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’, or was it both. Because I didn’t find all that much for ‘glinco’ with an ‘i’ and a ‘k.’”
Celia: “…hm. I’m not sure, actually, I heard it said.”
Had she been spelling it wrong? Like an idiot?
GM: “So, I looked around for all four spellings. And the one I actually found a lot of stuff for was ‘glynco’ with a ‘y’ and a ‘c.’”
Celia: “Glynco,” Celia echoes.
GM: Diana nods. “It’s a place, in Georgia.”
Celia: “Where in Georgia?”
“Or rather, tell me what you found and I won’t interrupt. I hate when people do that when I’m trying to explain things, sorry.”
GM: “It’s okay,” her mom smiles. “It’s in Glynn County. Or rather, it is Glynn County, ‘Glynco’ is the acronym. You can look it up, there’s basically only one thing there beyond the usual small Southern county stuff. It’s where the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers is located. It’s where basically every federal law enforcement agency except the FBI sends their recruits to learn the ropes of bein’ a fed. Like boot camp or OCS, but for cops. State and local agencies sometimes send people there, too. It’s a really big place. It has its own zip code!”
What does that mean? That the government has its own little band of hunters running around? That would make sense, wouldn’t it, with how they’d acted? She’s seen the movies, she knows the tropes; all those “feds” hate the “local guys” and vice versa. No wonder they hadn’t wanted any help.
“That’s… a lot. Thank you. I was going the wrong direction with everything.”
“Thank you,” she says again, pulling her mom in for a hug.
GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “You’re welcome, sweetie! I’m really glad I could help you!”
Celia: “I know it’s been rocky lately, but you’re really the best mom a lick could ask for, you know that?”
GM: “Sorry, a lick?” she smiles as she lets Celia go. “Well, whatever it is, I’m glad. And you’re the best daughter any mom could ask for, makin’ me look so pretty for this nice dinner!”
Celia: “Vampire slang,” Celia says with a laugh. “And you’re already pretty. I just polished you up a little.”
GM: “That’s what you’re so good at, bringin’ out the best in everyone,” her mom smiles.
“Oh, by the way! I completely forgot to show you!”
She turns around on her seat and pulls up her dress, showing off Dicentra’s tattoo.
Celia: “Ooooh,” Celia enthuses, running a hand over the ink. “Very pretty, Mom.”
GM: “This is the tattoo Dr. Dicentra did for me! It really is, isn’t it? Ballerina bouquet!”
“I admit I wasn’t keen on the tattoo idea, but this really is just so pretty. And feels a little… rebellious,” she says with a low chuckle.
Celia: “It’s very fitting, Mom. Very you. I love it.”
GM: “I do, too!” says Diana, lowering her dress and turning back around. “I was stuck, you know, between flowers and a ballerina, so she suggested we just do both. So all those parts of me are on there.”
Celia: The hellebore is on there, too, thanks to Celia. The cure for insanity if you believe the old legends.
GM: “Oh, speakin’ of my body. I noticed lately that, ah, my tah-tahs are perkier,” says her mom in a low whisper, as if someone might overhear. “Is that because of anything to do with the blood, or just Flawless keepin’ me pretty?”
Celia: “Ah… that… um.”
“Kind of both?”
Technically it’s a thing with the blood.
And technically she runs Flawless.
So technically she’s not even lying.
“You won’t age while you have the blood.”
“And I’ve been doing some tricks on you when you come in, because you kind of implied I could, and I thought you wouldn’t mind…?”
“There’s things I can do that, like, a human can’t.”
Her mom has already seen it: Celia turning herself into Jade and back.
GM: “Oh, no, I don’t mind! Thank you very much, in fact. Like I said, sweetie, I’m play-doh in your hands on the spa table. You can do whatever you like to my body, I know you’ll make me pretty. I just wanted to know if this was due to you.” Her mom smiles. “I guess in hindsight it should’ve been obvious.”
Celia: “Well I’d hope not obvious. Can’t let people know,” Celia winks.
GM: “Oh, it wasn’t! I mean, people at work commented how pretty I looked, but I figured it was just more spa treatments. That’s what I told them, too. Recommendin’ your business wherever I can.” Her mom winks back. “But I wouldn’t have wondered if it was more if I hadn’t known about vampires and things.”
Celia: “Good. I’m glad. I try to keep it subtle.”
“I actually have some lick clients I make less attractive and age.” One client.
GM: “Now that sure is funny. Why would they want that?” Diana asks with a frown.
Celia: “Better for the Masquerade. That’s why I’ve continued to age and can stick around in your life, because I can change my appearance. A lot of us can’t. And it’s a dead giveaway. Stephen had to fake his death. I would have had to too, eventually.”
GM: “Oh. That is true. I guess I took it for granted, that all vampires did,” her mom says thoughtfully.
Celia: “We have mortal identities sometimes. But they never stick around for long. Or they’re reclusive.”
GM: “I’m glad you can. Dani told me about what losing Stephen did to their father. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“I know. I fought to keep you in my life. I wasn’t going to disappear if I didn’t have to.”
“And I’m… you know, I try to be better about it. I don’t feed on Emily or Lucy or anything. Or you, until you, uh, offered.”
“And with the second identity not many people could trace me back to you.”
GM: “Oh. I don’t think that would be a good idea at all, to feed on them,” her mother says concernedly. “They can’t consent. I know how important that is for you, with spa treatments.”
“And Lucy’s just a kid. She can’t even donate blood, legally. She still needs all of hers.”
“So I think you made the right decision there.”
“I know what I’m gettin’ into and have the blood to spare. I used to give at the hospital with Emi, every so often. Obviously not anymore now with you.”
Celia: “A lot of people like me don’t see it like that. Older you get, the less you care. Lose touch with mortals and stuff. They can be awful.”
“So I try to keep a clear divide.”
“And wouldn’t put you guys at risk like that.”
GM: “I think that… you did a bit, with Jade,” her mother ventures quietly.
“But I’m sorry, don’t mean to belabor the point. You walked back and that’s what matters.”
Celia: “I did. I put you at risk coming to you that night. I was hungry and it was close to dawn and I’d just gotten into two fights.” One-sided fights, both of them, but fights all the same. “It was irresponsible. And that night, with Jade… I was struggling to figure out what to do with you because I messed up bringing you into this, and I was mad. I lashed out.”
GM: Her mom hugs her. “It’s okay, baby. You fixed it, and that’s, that’s what counts. You saved me from goin’ back to… her, too, and leavin’ Lucy to grow up without her mother. I don’t think I even thanked you for that, did I?” she asks with a sniff.
Celia: “You don’t need to, Momma. I’d do anything for you and Luce, you know that.”
GM: “Well, thank you anyway. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Goin’ back there would have been…” her mom shudders, “like that… that moment in your office with Jade. With you as Jade. Just… forever…”
Celia: “I’m not gonna let that happen.”
“I’ve gone up against bigger, scarier things than her to keep you safe.”
GM: “I know you won’t, sweetie. I feel safe with you. And Emi and I still have that next lesson with Robby on Sunday, too, so… you won’t always have to do the heavy liftin’, hopefully.”
Celia: “When you’re ready, if you’re open to it, I can find another teacher for you. And there are tricks of the blood I can show you. Make you faster. Sturdier. I know you don’t want this life, but there’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ prepared.”
GM: “You’re right, there definitely isn’t,” her mom nods. “I actually have felt… lighter on my feet, already. More flexible. I actually did a couple positions lately that made Emi’s jaw drop, and she’d been sayin’ for years before that I had slinkies for joints,” she chuckles. “That’s the blood?”
Celia: “That’s the blood,” Celia confirms.
“My sire shared her skills with me once. Speed, strength, durability. All of it. I felt… like a god. Like I could do anything.”
GM: “They say to treat your body like a temple. Take good care of it, and I guess you’ll really feel the divine.”
“Though I guess that’s more than just takin’ good care.”
Celia: “Not much you can’t do with it. I’ve seen and heard of some crazy things.”
GM: “I’ll take your word for it,” Diana nods. “If there’s more tricks you want to teach me, I’d be happy to learn. There’s obviously a lot of ways bein’ faster and sturdier can come in handy with ballet.”
Celia: “What, you don’t want to be a cat like me?” Celia teases.
GM: Her mom laughs. “I’m sure that’d be… interesting! Little out there for me, but I’d be happy to give you belly rubs. Lucy, too.”
Celia: Celia makes a sound that’s almost a purr. Then she is purring, stretched out on her mother’s lap with her belly exposed, tail flicking in quiet contentment.
Luna does so love her belly rubs.
GM: “Oh my, goodness!” her mother laughs again, then proceeds to do just that, rubbing and scratching her fingers along the cat’s exposed furry belly. It’s a heavenly feeling for Luna, though there is an instinctive urge to claw at the laughing woman’s hands. Every cat owner knows the belly might always be a trap.
“Who’s a happy lil’ kitty, huh?”
Celia: Luna is a happy little kitty. She shows it with how her whole body vibrates while she purrs, pawing at her mother’s hands with sheathed claws. She blinks long and slow at Diana, conveying her feline affection.
Yeah, she thinks, life as a cat might not be so bad.
GM: “Oh, yes, Lucy would just love to play with you,” Diana murmurs, keeping one hand busy along the cat’s belly while her other moves up, scratching Luna’s chest and neck, and finally the underside of her head. These hands know how to please a cat.
“Huh? Huh? Who wikes sum scwatches on the chinny-chin-chin, huh?” Diana asks in her kitty voice.
Celia: Luna is content to enjoy the attention of Celia’s mother for a few long moments, purring and meowing and otherwise showing her appreciation for the physical affection. Soon, though, she knows that the girl inside has to come back out and deal with the rest of the evening. She finishes the session by rubbing her face on Diana’s cheek to mark the human as hers and leaps to the side, shifting to regain her form before her paws ever touch the ground.
GM: “That’s just… so…” Celia’s mom murmurs, smiling and shaking her head.
Celia: “Awesome,” Celia supplies.
GM: Diana laughs. “I guess that’s a good word.”
“I’m happier to pet a kitty than be a kitty, anyway, but I’d love to learn any tricks that help with ballet!”
“Sturdier would help just as much as bein’ faster. It is a very demanding activity on your body.” There’s a rueful smile. “And I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Celia: “I’ll show you some,” Celia says, “once life calms down a little. Randy might have to show you some of the stoneskin stuff, though, I never learned myself.”
GM: “Okay, that sounds good,” her mom nods. “Randy’s okay with you guys breaking up?”
“Or, well. I guess you said you’d just been pretending.”
“That still seems just so strange to me, sweetie, no offense,” she chuckles.
Celia: “There’s a pretty blurred line with my ghouls and I. I think because I’m young, they’re still… people to me. Most of us wouldn’t even pretend to date one, but he was a good cover.”
GM: “Well, we were startin’ to wonder why he hadn’t put a ring on your finger yet,” winks Diana. “Anyway, we’ve taken up enough time, I bet our guests will be here soon.”
Celia: “Probably. We should get back out there.”
GM: Her mom nods and squeezes her hand. “This has had challenges, sweetie. But I’m glad I know the real you. Tellin’ the truth always feels just so much better.”
Celia: It seems like that sentiment has been popping up everywhere lately.
Still, she’s seen what it had done to Roderick, and she’s wondering if everyone’s “wise advice” isn’t as wise as all that.
Time will tell.
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
GM: Celia gets a text from Dani saying she and her dad are a little ways away. Hadn’t she wanted to speak with him private? Before he comes inside would be a good time.
Celia’s mother insists on equipping her with an umbrella. “I think it’s goin’ to rain, sweetie! Don’t get wet!”
Celia: It’s always going to rain in this city.
Celia sends Dani a quick thanks and snags the umbrella from her mom.
“Just a quick chat with him,” she says to Diana, “but better safe than sorry.” She heads outside to wait.
GM: Her mom nods in agreement as she heads out.
It’s not long before the Garrisons’ car pulls up to the house’s to the small courtyard. It’s been seven years since Celia last saw Roderick’s father. Mr. Garrison has not aged well.
There are much deeper wrinkles under his eyes and lines along his jaw than Celia remembers. None of them look from smiling. His hair is thinner and has gone almost completely gray with a few strands of white. Celia can see why her father decided to just shave his all off. In comparison to her mother, who looks like she’s aged maybe half the years since Celia’s Embrace, Roderick’s father looks like those years have been twice as long for him.
The spa treatments are undoubtedly part of it.
But there is a shadow to the older man’s eyes that all the facials and waxings and body wraps in the world can’t take away. The experienced esthetician doesn’t need long to make that assessment.
“Celia,” Mr. Garrison greets perfunctorily. The words aren’t cool, but he doesn’t smile either. He’s dressed in dark slacks with a pale blue button-up shirt. He has a light coat and umbrella against the now-drizzling rain, which he’s holding over Dani. She has on a light purple shirt and black skirt.
“I told him the gist of the story,” says Dani, rubbing her dad’s shoulder.
“I’ll head inside if you two want to talk privately?”
Celia: It’s not the years. Not the spa treatments. Not the blood.
It’s the loss. The grief. Losing a child. No parent should ever have to bury their children. She can’t imagine the amount of pain that puts someone through. She’s lost people before—her sister, for all that they weren’t close at the end—and sometimes still feels a pang of hurt for what had happened to them. What she’d done.
But it’s nothing compared to what she sees in his face.
Celia finds a subdued smile for Dani, nodding her head in agreement at the girl’s offer.
“Thanks, Dani. We’ll just be a minute.”
She watches the girl go. Only once the door closes does Celia turn to look back at Henry. Mr. Garrison. Her should-be father-in-law. Would-be.
“Mr. Garrison,” Celia begins, “thank you for coming tonight. I guess Dani already told you most of it, but I wanted to… explain.”
GM: She supposes it’s no surprise her own parent has weathered the years so much better.
After all, Diana got a new child.
Mr. Garrison walks his daughter up to the house’s front steps, umbrella held overhead, and opens the door for her. Dani nods her thanks as she heads inside.
He turns to face Celia when they’re alone.
Celia: “I don’t know how much she told you,” Celia says after a quiet moment, “but I’d like to tell you the rest of it. All of it.”
Rain patters across the umbrella, the water dripping to the ground below.
“I loved your son, Mr. Garrison. More than anything. We met and he… he changed my life. My family’s life. I don’t know if he told you about the abuse, or the time he met my father, or the things he used to do to me. To my mom. To my siblings. I don’t know that I would have been able to get out on my own. Stephen gave me courage. And hope. He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“We’d spoken about going away together. Getting out of the shadow that my father cast across us. He wanted to wait until he finished undergrad; he said he could go to law school anywhere. We’d briefly discussed a future together. Marriage. Kids.”
“It was all years off. He had to finish school. I was only nineteen. Neither of us were ready for that commitment. We’d had a, a scare, actually,” Celia flushes, looking away before she gathers herself. “I was late. And he’d said he wasn’t ready yet. That if I was, he’d rather… he wanted to wait. To find a solution to that.” Abortion, she means; she hopes he understands without the need to spell it out.
“So I said okay, if that happened we’d take care of it. It turned out to be nothing. We were both relieved.”
“The… there was a night when I had to go to the ER because of something that happened at home. The following night I was out. It was late. I was stupid. I was assaulted.” She takes a breath. “Raped, Mr. Garrison. I was raped. And with everything going on with my dad at the time, it didn’t occur to me to take a pill. So by the time I found out what had happened, it was too late to take the easy out. I went to a clinic.”
“I thought it would be easy. Suck it out. No problem.”
“It wasn’t. I don’t know if you know this, but they do an ultra-sound. Make you look at what you’re getting rid of before they’ll do the procedure. Talk about it like it’s already alive. I think that’s the point. Make young girls like me reconsider. Play on our feelings. Hormones.”
“I knew Stephen wasn’t ready for that. And I knew he’d want to be. To do the right thing. Because that was who he was. Always doing the right thing for everyone. So I did what I thought was the right thing for him. I told him that I cheated on him so he didn’t… so he didn’t throw his life away on me.”
She doesn’t need to force the emotion. The way her voice cracks at the end is very, very real.
She wants to cry. She wants to, but she can’t, not in front of Mr. Garrison. So the world does it for her. The clouds loose the tears that she refuses to let fall, plinking off the umbrella, landing against the ground. Water splashes over her shoes.
“I thought it was right, and I wish I could take it back, and I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did.”
“I never thought it would turn out this way.”
GM: Mr. Garrison listens.
He doesn’t smile, or frown. He just listens. Intently. His knuckles whiten around the umbrella. His eyes don’t once leave Celia’s. He scarcely seems to even blink.
What’s it like, to receive personal news about a dead child? Is it like they’re still doing things, living a life of sorts, past the grave? Does it bring them back for a moment, in a way, to hear news about them?
But the news runs out. There won’t be any more. Mr. Garrison could query Celia for details all night long, ask for recollections of every word and conversation, but eventually, even with a flawless memory, she would run out.
Because Stephen is still dead. At least to his father.
There won’t ever be more news.
She can see the look in Mr. Garrison’s eyes. Simultaneously so close and so far away. Longing. Like he sees his dead son on the other side of a pane of glass, and for all that he might wish to pull Stephen through, can only brush his hands against it.
Forever out of reach.
Several moments pass after Celia finishes before he replies.
“My son was hurt by what you told him, Celia.” The man’s voice is a rasp.
“Badly. He never recovered from it. It took something out of him that he never got back. He dated no other girls. Then he died.”
Rain steadily plunks against the umbrellas.
“The truth would have been kinder. He could have decided for himself. I would have supported him in whatever decision he made.”
Celia: The words fall like blows against her body. It’s an effort not to flinch. Celia looks away. She could have told him the truth. Given him her blood. Let him come over to this world with her, picked a fight with the sire who had already been eyeing him for her own. Blood doll or ghoul, but they’d have been together, wouldn’t they. Like her and Randy.
She thought he’d be better off.
“I know that now,” she says to Mr. Garrison. She finds his face with her eyes once more. “It wasn’t my decision to make. I should… should have told him the truth. All of it. He deserved that.”
She could spin a story here about the abuse. Play up her age, inexperience, fear. And while it’s true, it’s not the truth. She doesn’t need to turn herself into a victim, paint herself as the “good guy” in the situation. None of it will bring Stephen back. Not for his father.
“I saw him once,” she says, whisper-quiet. “Before he died. I saw him. He came to the spa. He wanted to know. About Lucy.” The words tumble out of their own volition. She hadn’t meant to say this part. Half-formed, fragmented sentences pour from her lips. “I told him then. What happened. How it happened. Why I lied.”
Her lips twist.
“He said the same. That I should have told him. That things could have been different. We thought…” She sighs. “We thought we might try again. I told him I’d never lie to him again, and now he’s gone. You’re right. He was right. I was wrong.”
The timelines blur together, but the sentiment remains the same. She said she’d stop lying to him, that she’d tell him everything.
And now he’s gone.
GM: Being a ghoul seems to agree with Randy. With Alana. With Diana, as Mélissaire has always been so keen to remind her.
Would it have with Stephen? Always so ready, so eager, to fight for what he believed?
Mr. Garrison looks at Celia as she struggles with everything she hears. As she whispers. As she holds back tears. As she looks away.
When she looks back, Mr. Garrison is still staring at her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her. He doesn’t yell or look mad, either. His face looks like a tombstone. All these years later.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says.
“Who was right. Who was wrong.”
The plunking rain and light from the house cast long, wavering shadows over Mr. Garrison’s aged face.
He really looks so much older.
Celia: She wishes he would yell.
Tell her it was her fault.
Because it was, even if he doesn’t know the truth. If she hadn’t broken up with Stephen he might still be alive. Not just saved from the “car crash,” but from the woman who had come to him after Celia had finished ripping out his heart.
Stephen hadn’t blamed her for it. His sire hadn’t blamed her for it. All sorts of people had a hand in Stephen’s Embrace. Even his father, standing here in front of her, face carved of marble; if he hadn’t raised such a good, decent person.
Celia doesn’t tell him any of it. She can’t. Stephen doesn’t want to involve his father in this life.
She remembers the way he’d cried in the car, years ago. How terrible she’d felt at being too much of a coward to offer to give him a new face so he could keep his lives separate.
But she couldn’t, could she? She hadn’t known of his Embrace until his release, and at that point everyone already knew that face as Roderick Durant.
It’s not her fault.
Even though it is.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Garrison. I’m very, very sorry that I hurt him. I wish that I could bring him back. I’d give anything to undo what happened to him.”
GM: “It doesn’t matter,” repeats the marble-faced man.
He still doesn’t yell.
He still doesn’t cry.
“You hurt him. You didn’t kill him. He died in a completely random accident that had no bearing upon anything that anyone in his life did or didn’t do.”
Rain dribbles off their umbrellas.
“I’d planned to give the two of you my house to raise your family in. To raise Lucy in, if that had been his decision. I’d have stayed to help, while he finished law school and prepared for the Bar, and moved out once he was financially self-sufficient.”
Her mom had offered to help with childcare too, that night when they discussed the possibility. Said she’d love to help.
And Stephen had been so freaked out they couldn’t raise a kid together, after that pregnancy scare. That they couldn’t manage it at that point in their lives.
Their parents didn’t seem to think so.
Celia: She knows.
Roderick had told her.
But Stephen had never told Celia, so Celia has to play her role. Her eyes flash in very real pain, lips parting slightly. She looks away once more. She hates them all over again. Hates them for killing her. For killing him. For existing. For breaking her to the point that she’d been perfectly willing to break him. The only decent one among them and she’d snapped him like a twig.
She hates them.
All of them.
She doesn’t want this life anymore. She’s tired of being a pet. Tired of being a slave. Tired of being bound to someone who will never care about her as much as Stephen did. As much as Roderick does.
No. Did. Past tense. How could he now when she’s broken him again?
She tugs at the bond. Digs her claws into it. Inside, where the DA can’t see, she fights a very real battle with herself. Nothing to do with him, right?
Except it’s everything to do with him.
He’d come for her father. Turned him into a monster. Protected him. Murdered her. Taken her from Stephen. Forced her to go to her grandsire, who had forced her into this. Flip Roderick.
Flip him, and break him in the meantime.
She hates them.
So she digs. Because it hurts. And it’s all she can do right now. Dig. Hurt herself further so she doesn’t hurt him. Dig again. Again. Again.
GM: It’s not his fault.
He didn’t tell her to do this.
He didn’t tell her to break Stephen.
He didn’t know any of the details.
He didn’t know what would happen.
He probably barely even knows Roderick. Much less Stephen.
Does he even know where they were to one another?
Does he even know what they still are?
Besides. He has been good to her.
He saved her from Elyse.
When has Roderick saved her? All he’s been is a source of problems. He’s not offered her a place at his side. He’s not promised her a future.
She wanted this.
She caused this.
She asked for the bond.
She picked him.
Celia: She did. She picked him. She wants him. He has long been a balm to her hurts. Even now, not present, he soothes them.
So she fights.
And she loses.
It’s a bitter feeling, that loss. Like she’s helpless. Bound in chains, held captive by a monster in the darkness, treated like some sort of animal. She lashes out the only way she knows how: she finds the bond and sends her pain reeling along it.
Maybe he’ll hear her wordless shriek of rage and grief. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he doesn’t care.
Inside her chest her Beast purrs; it hates this show of emotional, human weakness. It’s pleased that she’s sending it elsewhere.
But she sees his eyes swimming in front of her, face pale in the night. Cold. Stern. Unaffected by her pitiful display of defiance. It shifts. Becomes his. Roderick’s. Not the Roderick from her memories, but the Roderick from the vision. Dark and cold. So much smarter than everyone else in the room. So much better than everyone else. The only one who can make the right decisions, isn’t he.
When had their features become so intertwined?
…and who had she sent that to?
His father said something. No doubt he expects an answer.
The perfect life had been waiting for her… if she hadn’t died. If he hadn’t died. If she’d been honest. Gone to him for help. Stopped playing with fire in an attempt to solve her own problems.
She cracks. The floodgates loosen. Celia turns away, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes where the blood threatens to fall.
Just for a moment.
Just until she pulls herself back together. Seconds later. She wipes at her eyes. She turns to face his father. She knows how much men hate the emotional side of women. Stephen had told her as much.
So she kills it. Buries it deep. She’d shared the pain. She doesn’t need it anymore.
“That would have meant the world to us.”
“Some children hate it, you know. Following in their parent’s footsteps. They resent the expectations pushed upon them by their families. I asked him about it once, if he did. But he didn’t. He never did. He loved you, and Dani, and your father.”
GM: Mr. Garrison watches as Celia weeps. Weeps below her umbrella while the sky pours down its own grief overhead. It’s not so hard to catch some rainwater and pretend it’s tears, around the kine man with his dull senses.
He’s still staring at Celia when she looks back. He’s not reached out to comfort her. He doesn’t look disgusted either. There’s just that some marble-like expression on his too-old face.
“He was the brightest light in my life. He would have been an extraordinary attorney and public servant. He would have had a happy, loving family with many children and grandchildren. He would have done great things with his life.”
Mr. Garrison doesn’t smile at the words. They’re delivered with all the warmth of a tombstone.
“He’s dead and gone.”
Those ones are too.
Stephen’s father looks at the door.
“We should go inside.”
Celia: He’s just as broken as the rest of them.
As dead and buried as his child.
“Yes, Mr. Garrison.”
There’s nothing left to say. Celia opens the door for him.
GM: He preempts her and opens the door instead. She is the woman.
Celia: “Thank you,” she says as she slips past him.
For the door. For listening.
GM: Mr. Garrison follows behind her, closes his umbrella, and shakes it off over the mat before closing the door. Dani and Celia’s family are gathered inside. The night beyond the house feels very dark, very wet, and very cold.
Celia: She leaves the night at her back.
She’s here with her family.
Whatever lurks outside, the cold and the dark doesn’t touch them here.
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
Celia: Celia follows suit with her wet umbrella, gesturing vaguely toward the stand for him to put his in. She leads the way down the hall.
GM: He does so and follows her to the living room, where everyone is gathered. Diana is the first to rise. She’s put on a pair of pink heels to go with her rose-printed dress since Celia saw her last.
“Mr. Garrison, hello. I’m Diana. It’s so good to finally meet you,” she says, extending a hand. Her voice is quiet and her smile gentle rather than wide as she meets his eyes.
“You can call me Henry, Mrs. Flores,” he answers as he slowly shakes the hand.
“Well, to that I’ll also say you can call me Diana,” answers Celia’s mother with a note of mirth. But no more than a note. “And this is my other daughter Emily.”
“Stephen was a friend to me too, sir,” greets Emily as she shakes hands too. Her grip looks firmer than Diana’s, like always. “Dani might have mentioned we were classmates.”
Celia: Celia watches the introductions silently from her spot near Mr. Garrison. Near, but not next to. Part of the group, but away from it.
“Emily introduced us,” she adds quietly. A step takes her over to Lucy. She holds her arms out for the girl and picks her up, for once not spinning her around.
“This is Lucy. My daughter.”
GM: Lucy stares at Mr. Garrison without saying anything. There’s a curious and slightly afraid look on the child’s face.
Her held body tenses against Celia’s.
Celia: Celia doesn’t force an interaction. She steps back, as if the weight of the child is becoming too much for her small frame, and takes a seat on a free chair with a vaguely apologetic look.
GM: Diana sits down next to her. “Lucy, can you say hello?” she asks with a gentle smile, touching her ’granddaughter’s’ back as she looks between the child and Mr. Garrison.
“Hello,” Lucy repeats quietly.
Celia: She tries to see him through Lucy’s eyes, this tall man with his solemn eyes and haunted face, who no doubt sees Lucy as the reason his son died so unhappily. Celia runs a soothing hand down the child’s back.
GM: She hears the girl’s faster heartbeat in her ears, but it slows slightly at Diana’s and Celia’s combined touches.
“Hello, Lucy,” Mr. Garrison returns. He doesn’t manage a smile.
Celia: “This is Dani’s dad,” Celia tells her. “And Stephen’s.”
GM: Lucy just watches him without saying anything. She still looks a little afraid.
Celia: Celia shoots a helpless look at her mother.
GM: “Say, Henry, can I impose on you for a moment, before we start dinner?” Diana asks, patting Lucy’s head as she stands up. “My car’s been actin’ up and I’m wondering if I should take it in to the mechanic. If you know anything about cars, I’d be mighty obliged if you could lend an opinion.”
“I do,” says Mr. Garrison. “We can take a look.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” smiles Diana, briefly turning back to her daughters. “And Celia, Emily, maybe you can get Lucy off to bed, now that she’s said hello? She is up past her bedtime.”
She mouths ‘food’ from where Mr. Garrison can’t see.
Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod to her mother, rising to her feet as they leave.
“Grab her a plate, Emi, I’ll get her settled.”
GM: “Sorry,” Dani whispers after their parents’ forms recede. “Dad isn’t… he isn’t really social, these days.”
Celia: “He hates me,” Celia sighs.
GM: “He doesn’t hate you,” assures Dani. “He’s… he’s like this to most people.”
“I guess losing your kid will do that,” sighs Emily.
“Yeah. I meant it… he never got over Stephen,” says Dani.
Lucy silently follows the adults’ conversation as she clings to Celia.
“Listen, Lucy shouldn’t have to eat alone,” says Emily. “Bring her to my room, I’ll get plates for us both.” She turns to Lucy and smiles. “We can have dinner together in my bed, Goose, how’s that sound?”
Lucy gives a nod.
Celia: “How magnanimous,” Celia grumbles at her half-heartedly, “avoiding awkward dinners.”
“Come on, Goose. Let’s set up a picnic in Em’s room.”
GM: “I think Dad would prefer fewer people anyway,” says Dani. “And he doesn’t really know you, Emily, no offense.”
Celia: Celia rises, the child tucked against her.
GM: “Isn’t any to take,” says Emily. “Come on, you can help me with the plates.”
“Sure,” says Dani.
The two head off to the kitchen.
Celia: Celia starts towards Emily’s room.
“You okay, Luce?”
GM: Lucy’s face quavers.
“He looked really sad…”
Celia: “He is really sad.”
“His son passed away.”
GM: “Can you make him happy…?”
Celia: She can. She can take his pain, too.
But only temporarily.
“I don’t think so, Lucy. Not in a healthy way.”
GM: “Huh?” Lucy asks.
Celia: “No,” Celia clarifies.
GM: It’s a brief walk through the rain to the ‘carriage house,’ or rather, ‘carriage room’ where Emily stays, as it has only one room. She sees her mother and Stephen’s dad looking over her pink Beetle together with umbrellas out. Henry is bent over and talking indistinctly while he inspects something. Diana nods along with an ‘oh I see’ expression.
Celia: Good of her, Celia thinks, to give him a purpose. Something to do with his hands. She’s heard that it helps.
She turns the light on as she enters, looking around the room.
“Picnic on the floor? Or the bed?”
GM: “So he… says sad forever?” Lucy asks instead. Her face looks confused. And upset.
Celia: “I don’t know, Luce. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it makes them really sad, and it takes a long time to be happy again.”
GM: Lucy sniffs several times, then starts quietly crying.
Celia: “Oh, sweetie…” Celia murmurs soft, soothing things to the girl, holding her close. “It’s okay, Lucy, it’s okay.”
Celia takes a seat on the bed and holds the crying Lucy against her, rocking her slowly back and forth.
There’s a song her mom used to sing to she and her siblings when they came to her with their childish woes. An old lullaby, a soft melody that Celia hums now for the daughter in her arms.
GM: The soothing lyrics and gentle motions eventually cause Lucy’s sniffles to trail off. She dabs at her eyes.
“I’d like… a picnic.”
Celia: “Picnics make everything better,” Celia agrees.
GM: Emily and Dani arrive with full plates of still-steaming food.
“Uh oh, we get upset?” asks Emily, looking at the child’s reddened eyes.
Celia: “She’s sad that Mr. Garrison is sad.”
“And wants us to make him happy.”
GM: “I wish we could too, Luce,” says Emily. She sets down the plates and kneels down on the floor to stroke Lucy’s back.
Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to look up at Dani, brows raised.
GM: Dani just has a sadly knowing look.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve… mentioned how he’s not very good company.”
“These days, when he thinks about Stephen.”
Celia: “I was just wondering if there’s something we can do.”
GM: “I wish there was.”
There’s a knowing lilt to her voice as she looks at Celia. Partly questioning.
“Mommy was quiet,” says Lucy. “With Mr. Garrison.”
Celia: “She was, Goose. Mommy is good at knowing how to act around people that are sad or mad or not feeling their best.”
Celia gives a tiny nod to Dani.
She could do something. Take it away. If that’s what his daughter wants.
She’ll talk about it on the way back. Warn her it’s temporary.
She wishes Stephen were here. That he could see… the love, maybe. The pain his absence causes. So he’d know that the world isn’t all bad. That there are still people who love him. Who miss him. Who need him.
GM: Dani looks a little gladder.
“Oh,” says Lucy.
“Did I hear something about a picnic?” asks Emily.
“Uh huh,” says Lucy.
Celia: “Should we send the kitties in? Make it a party?”
GM: “Ooh, good idea,” says Emily, then frowns. “Wait, Victor and Shadow should be in here. This is where we normally keep them when you’re over.”
Celia: “Maybe they got out when I opened the door?”
GM: “You’d have seen them, wouldn’t you?” says Emily, shaking her head.
“They must be in here still,” says Dani. “If you’re sure they were here?”
“Yeah, positive,” says Emily.
“I can check the courtyard, though.”
Just listen for the hissing.
GM: Emily shakes her head again. “They’re in here. Door was closed the whole time.”
Celia: “Maybe they’re napping in your panty drawer.”
Celia wiggles her brows at Emily.
GM: “The pussies want to smell my pussy, huh?” smirks Emily.
Celia: “Who doesn’t?”
GM: “Maxen, probably, mongrel that I am.”
Celia: “That’s an image I don’t need,” Celia mutters.
GM: Emily gets down on her belly and looks under the bed.
“Oh. There they are.”
Celia: “Oh, good.”
That’s her cue to leave.
GM: “Jesus, they look spooked.”
“Their tails are huge.”
Celia: Definitely her cue to leave.
“They never liked me much,” Celia says with a shrug. She rises.
GM: “Why not?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “I’m cuter than them. They hate it.”
GM: “So they’re cuter than the rest of us? Or co-equal?” asks Emily, getting up from her belly.
Dani watches Celia as if to see how she handles this.
Celia: “Me, then the cats, then you.”
GM: “Ice cold, Celia. Ice cold.”
Celia: Celia winks at her.
GM: “How cute am I?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “Cuter than all of us combined.”
“That’s why they like you so much.”
GM: “Cuter than all of us and… beat me to it,” smirks Emily. “Kitties included.”
Celia: “They know they don’t stand a chance against you, Goose, so they have to love you.”
GM: A low growl goes up from under the bed.
Celia: “That’s them claiming their territory.”
GM: Lucy looks worried.
“They’re being scary…”
Celia: Celia takes a step toward the door.
GM: Dani follows her. “All right, we’ll leave you two to set up the picnic. Hopefully the kitties will calm down.”
Celia: Celia hesitates, then takes a knee to peer under the bed. Just in case.
She keeps her distance.
GM: She’s greeted by two furious hisses as the cats’ ears go flat. Lower growls go up from their throats.
Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Celia mutters, “screw you too.”
GM: “Make them stop!” pleads Lucy.
She doesn’t fool them.
Celia: Stupid cats.
Celia moves away from the bed.
GM: Smart cats.
Very smart cats.
She fools everyone else.
Celia: “They’ll calm down if you share some dinner with them, I bet. Just don’t tell Mommy.”
GM: “That’s an idea,” says Emily, patting Lucy’s back. “I bet they’ll just love some chicken. Mommy Celia will be by later to tuck you in, won’t she?”
Celia: “I will,” Celia promises.
“Love you, Goose.”
“Enjoy your picnic.”
“You too I guess, uggo.”
GM: “Love you, Mommy,” Lucy repeats.
Emily smiles at her, then removes the top-most blanket from her bed. “All right, this should be a good picnic blankie…”
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
GM: Dani follows Celia back into the main house.
“Wow, so… animals really hate licks?”
Celia: “Most of us.”
“They can sense the Beast, I guess.”
GM: “They like me, like I’ve said.”
Celia: “Some of you are lucky.”
“They all hate me, though.”
“Stephen doesn’t have a problem with animals.”
GM: “Huh. He was always a big pet lover.”
Celia: “Could be that.”
GM: “So about my dad…”
Celia: “Yeah. I can take it from him. His grief. Just temporarily, though. It’ll be back.”
GM: “Really? Are there side effects?”
Celia: “Not really. It’s fake, though. It kind of… numbs him. Like really strong meds.”
GM: “Oh. Would we be able to cheer him up?”
“I mean, only so much, obviously.”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“I can manipulate a lot of emotions. Happiness isn’t one of them.”
“Probably because I’m an undead abomination that true happiness escapes.”
“But who’s counting.”
GM: “Well, I guess I’m half one,” Dani remarks. “But I meant if you do it, numb his pain, could anything we do still cheer him up?”
Celia: “I think so. It just takes away what’s there, so if we introduce something on top of it…”
“Stephen… doesn’t like it. Using powers like this. On family.”
GM: “Oh? The use here sounds pretty ethical.”
“Though you could raise questions of consent.”
Celia: “That’s the problem. Slippery slope.”
GM: “Maybe better not, then.”
“I mean, if it’s only for an evening anyway…”
Celia: “I’m sorry, Dani. I wish I could help.”
GM: Dani looks sad. “Thanks. Me too.”
“He isn’t always… this bad.”
Celia: “I think it’s me, honestly.”
GM: “I think it’s Stephen.”
Celia: “I guess it’s a good thing he isn’t here, you know.”
“As my new partner. Rubbing it in your dad’s face, basically.”
GM: “Ah. Yeah. I guess maybe that’s worked out, actually.”
Celia: “Did you hear from him…?”
GM: Dani shakes her head.
Celia: “I’ll find him. When we’re done here.”
“C’mon, then. Let’s go have dinner.”
GM: Dani nods and follows her to the dining room. The click of Diana’s heels soon announces her and Mr. Garrison.
“We ended up talkin’ about cars for a while,” she smiles. Still fainter and quieter than her usual self.
“But okay, food’s all out, let’s eat. Did Emi decide to stay with Lucy?”
Celia: “She did,” Celia tells her mom as she takes a seat. “Car okay?”
GM: Diana nods. “We’re going to hold off on taking it in. It’s just an older car, no gettin’ around that. I’m very fond of it, though. Still the same one I got you for college!”
Celia: “I remember,” Celia says with a smile.
“Thank you for taking a look, Mr. Garrison.”
GM: “You’re welcome, Celia.”
Her mom smiles back at her. “All right, so for dinner tonight we’ve got slow-cooked lemon chicken, collard greens, and citrus salad. There’s shoofly pie for dessert, that’s still in the kitchen.”
Celia: “Looks great, Ma.”
GM: The chicken thighs are cooked up tender and juicy in a buttery lemon garlic sauce, probably made with broth too, judging by how they’re all but swimming in it. They also smell of onion powder, paprika, chili pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Parsley flakes and lemon wedges provide a finishing touch.
The first side dish is drunken collard greens, made with bourbon, bacon bits, diced sweet onion, and a few tablespoons of bacon grease in place of butter for extra decadence.
A fruit salad of diced strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries provides a contrast in colors and temperates. A light sauce of honey, poppyseed, and lime enhances the fruits’ natural sweetness.
“Thank you, sweetie, I’m so glad it does,” her mom smiles back at her, though with a hint of apology. They both know she isn’t going to enjoy it.
“Henry, would you like to lead us in prayer?” she asks.
Celia: Is Mr. Garrison religious?
Celia casts a glance his way.
GM: Henry merely holds his hands together and closes his eyes. Diana and Dani do the same and bow their heads.
“Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen,” he recites.
“Amen,” echoes Celia’s mom.
“Amen,” murmurs Dani.
Celia: “Amen,” Celia says.
GM: “Henry, w-” Diana starts before the chime of the doorbell.
There’s another chime.
The person at the door is barely pausing before hitting the bell again.
“Oh, who could that be,” Celia’s mom frowns.
“Oh! Celia, didn’t you say this might be someone you were expectin’? Would you like to get it?” she asks.
Dani looks hopeful, as if having the same thought.
Celia: Celia slides immediately from her seat to answer the door.
GM: It’s Alana. The ghoul looks on the verge of tears under her umbrella.
Celia: Celia closes the door behind her as she steps outside.
GM: “You ignored my text,” she says sullenly.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Celia: “I sent you a text,” she says, confused.
GM: “You’ve shut me out!” exclaims the ghoul, breathing hard.
“You think I don’t notice how we aren’t sleeping together anymore!?”
“We just stopped!”
Celia: “Alana,” Celia says sharply, “pull yourself together. I literally said that I’d be with you tonight.”
GM: “You weren’t at the spa! I was going to surprise you! I’d spent HOURS!”
“They come first, every single time! Always!”
She casts a hateful glare at the house.
Celia: “Alana. Knock it off. I’ve been walking a tight line lately, this is not helping.”
GM: “That’s what you always say!” The ghoul’s eyes are wide. “I tried to bring it up and you blew me off! You keep saying later! You said you’d reward me, and you never did! You just forget about me! For your stupid family! THEY ALWAYS COME FIRST!” The last words are exclaimed with a half-gulp, half-sob.
Celia: Celia seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams her bodily against the side of the house. Fangs bared, she leans in.
“My Masquerade comes before everything. You get rewarded when you earn rewards, not when you show up and cause a scene,” Celia hisses at her.
GM: Alana starts full-on crying. She doesn’t try to force away Celia’s hands.
“You don’t love me, you’re bored with me, I knew it, I knew it…”
Celia: “I’m bored of the emotional outbreaks.”
“I’m bored of not knowing whether you can stay by my side.”
“I’m bored when you make me think you can’t handle this.”
GM: Alana chokes past the grip on her neck.
“You’re lying! You kept saying how good I was doing! You kept and kept and kept saying it, and we’ve only had sex once!”
Celia: “We literally had sex yesterday.”
GM: “We used to have sex EVERY DAY!”
Celia: “I’m about to take you to LA with me for months so we can fuck.”
“I am on a very, very delicate missive for Lord Savoy. Being here is part of it. If we fuck it up, do you want to answer to him?”
GM: “Why don’t we SLEEP TOGETHER ANYMORE?!” the ghoul sobs.
Celia: There’s nothing nice in the expression that crosses Celia’s face. There’s nothing human in her eyes, not narrowed the way they are with her lips pulled back and teeth bared in silent snarl at the sniveling bitch in front of her. The tips of her nails dig into Alana’s neck. Not claws, not yet, but close.
“Don’t you ever show up at my door and throw a fit like some sort of child. I have been nice to you. I have been patient with you. I have been good to you, better than you’d find with any other domitor in the city. I will not tolerate this sort of pathetic, whimpering, tantrum-throwing behavior because you didn’t get what you want.”
“You know my schedule. You knew I wouldn’t be at the spa tonight, not before this dinner, maybe not even before Elysium. Don’t you dare act shocked that I followed my schedule.”
“You want sex?” Celia hisses at her. “I want competence. And right now you’re nothing but a liability. You know what we do to liabilities, ’Lana?”
She leans in, her face filling the ghoul’s vision.
GM: Alana chokes past the grip around her neck, a stifled and gasp-like sound together with her sniffling. She still doesn’t try to push Jade away, but fear starts to edge out the anger in her eyes as she feels the sharpening nails’ bite.
“I’m s-sorry, mistress, I jus, just want to sleep with y-you, not even sex, that’s a-all.”
The ghoul’s voice quavers.
“Mistress, I miss you…”
Celia: “And what,” Celia growls at her, “happened to waiting until tonight, like we’d talked about? Did you forget how calendars work? Can you no longer recall the days of the week? What happened to tonight?”
GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, I just, I thought you’d leave again, after we had sex, and I just… I thought about where you were, and I lost it.” She makes several more sounds past the near-claws around her throat. “I’m sorry, mistress, do you want to punish me…?”
Celia: Jesus fucking christ.
Celia squeezes. Squeezes, because she’s been on the other side of that grip and she knows what it’s like to think that the person with their hands around your throat isn’t going to stop. Squeezes, because the pain that’s bottled up inside of her needs an outlet and the stupid but pretty whore in front of her is close. Squeezes, because she’d rather choke the life from her than listen to another minute of her whimpering.
She waits until Alana’s hands grow limp. Until the fear in her eyes turns to terror. Until the black spots begin to swim in her vision.
GM: Alana doesn’t struggle at first. She makes choking sounds as the rain patters against her increasingly blue face, but she doesn’t raise her hands. It’s not until Jade doesn’t let go, until she keeps squeezing and squeezing and squeezing, that she finally tries to pry her domitor’s fingers off. Jade sees it in her eyes, amidst the terror. That primal urge in all forms of life. To live. To survive, just another day.
But Alana’s limp fingers are no match for the furious Toreador’s ruthless grip.
Celia: And then she stops. She eases up. She leans in, fangs long in her mouth.
“Go. Home. Go home and handcuff yourself to the bed and I will deal with you when I get there.”
GM: Alana collapses to her domitor’s feet, knees painfully hitting the courtyard’s rain-slick bricks. She gags in pain for several moments, hands massaging her throat before she falteringly rasps out,
“Do you… want me… naked, mis… tress?”
Celia: “Get out of my sight.”
GM: Alana looks into her domitor’s eyes for a moment, then picks up her dropped umbrella, ambles to her feet, and retreats to her parked car. She stops at the door, turns back, and weakly calls out,
“I just want to get your orders right, m-mistress…”
Celia: Celia stares silently through the rain at the ghoul. She offers no further guidance.
Without a word she turns back to the house and steps inside, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
GM: She hears the car’s ignition starting before she walks back into the dining room. Her mother and Dani looks somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see her return by herself.
“Oh. Who was that at the door, sweetie?” her mom asks.
“They were really bangin’ that bell.”
Celia: No one, she almost tells them. But that’s both rude and not true, and not an answer any of them is likely to accept.
“Alana,” she says as she slides into her chair. “Problem at the spa and she got worried when I didn’t answer my phone.”
Vampire thing, Dani and Diana should realize.
GM: “Oh no,” says her mom. “Wasn’t anything too serious, I hope?”
Celia: “The break-in,” Celia says with a forced sigh. Then, looking up at Henry, she gives an apologetic smile.
“My spa was broken into earlier in the week. My manager and I had plans to meet to run over some numbers today but my appointments ran long, and she let her imagination get the best of her. My apologies for the interruption.”
GM: “Unfortunate,” frowns Mr. Garrison. It looks like no one’s touched their food while Celia excused herself, but they start their meal in earnest now that she’s back. Mr. Garrison starts to cut a chicken thigh. “Did you find the person responsible?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“No.” Not technically. “That’s the weird part, though, nothing was missing. Nothing was stolen.” She looks down at her plate, beginning to cut into one of the pieces of chicken someone had laid out for her. A small portion; she assumes Diana is responsible and smiles at her mother.
“So the alarm went off and we filed a police report, but they basically said there’s nothing to be done since they didn’t find anything and nothing was missing. They did use it as an excuse to shake down my other manager for protection money.”
“One of my girls said it sounded like someone from the Insta community trying to send a message, I guess they do that on other platforms? Swatting? But no one was hurt so I don’t really understand it, I guess.”
GM: There’s also some greens and fruit salad on the plate. But the portions look as small as they can be without prompting questions, and her mom smiles back at her.
Mr. Garrison’s frown remains in place. “Do you know the names or badge numbers of the officers responsible?”
Celia: “Yes, I wrote them down when they told me what happened. She made it sound like there wasn’t much I could do…?”
GM: “Give them to me before I head out. I’ll have someone at my office take it up with Internal Affairs.”
Celia: “Oh, yes, okay. I will. Thank you, Mr. Garrison. That’s—thank you.”
GM: “Consider investing in cameras if you haven’t, or better cameras if you have. Alarms only catch faces if someone arrives in time.”
Celia: Celia nods. Better cameras, she can do that. She’ll have Rusty take a look. And Randy. His cameras had caught the would-be bugger, but who knows what might happen in the future.
She looks to her plate, unable to put off forcing the food down her throat anymore. Hopefully this stomach thing works. A nudge to her Beast, just in case, and Celia finally takes a bite.
Still tastes like literal shit.
Still an effort to chew, letting it roll around in her mouth like humans do.
Bit of a giveaway if she swallows her food whole, isn’t it.
GM: Diana tries not to look too obviously sympathetic as Celia forces herself to chew.
“I was starting to tell Henry the story of the situation we were in before Stephen came along,” says her mom. “You know it all, of course. You want to tell him how cruddy that old apartment of mine was?” she asks with a rueful smile.
Celia: She swallows the masticated chicken carcass.
“With the, ah, shared bathroom? Where one of your neighbors liked to shoot up?”
GM: “Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs. “Technically not even a neighbor. She was evicted. But she still came in to the bathroom to shoot up. I remember knockin’ on the door once, after someone was in there for a while, and hearin’ ‘present!’ in this breathless voice. I asked if she’d be out soon, she said yes, and the whole place was completely trashed when I came in. Just…” She shakes her head. “I feel sorry for the folks who still have to live there.”
Celia: “I always tried to make sure I didn’t have to use it when I was there. Stopped on the way if I needed to.”
“When Stephen came over…” Celia glances at Dani, then Mr. Garrison. “I imagine he told you about dinner with my father?”
GM: “Yes, I always laid down strips of toilet paper over the toilet seat,” her mother nods grimly. “And I felt just so embarrassed, sweetie. And bad for you. That you saw me livin’ like that, that you couldn’t even use the loo without feeling grossed out.”
Celia: “I think, more than that, what stuck with me was the way you’d been cut out completely. The photos you had to take from Facemash because he wouldn’t… let you have anything.”
GM: “Facemash photos?” Dani asks.
“Of my kids,” says Diana. “That was the only way I could have pictures of them.”
Celia: “‘Clean break.’”
GM: “That’s awful,” says Dani. “And yes. Stephen told us all about… ‘the worst dinner ever.’ That’s what he called it.”
Celia: “It was.”
“So going from that to introducing him to my mom… it was night and day.”
GM: “He said your dad basically made you be a servant.”
Celia: Celia nods her head, her eyes clouding with the memory of mortification.
GM: “He did say the second dinner was better, though. That how different it was almost gave him whiplash.”
“He said you and your mom seemed happy together. That the food ‘tasted less like fear and more like love.’ I told him that was corny.”
“I think that’s very sweet,” smiles Diana.
Celia: “It sounds like something he would say.” There’s a warmth to her smile that has been missing since last night.
GM: Mr. Garrison doesn’t say anything. Just listens and eats.
Celia: “I think without him we’d still be there. In that apartment. He’s the one who pushed my mom to do something about it.”
GM: “He gave us the number for an attorney, to call about an insurance settlement and regaining custody of my kids,” Diana nods. “But my goodness, sweetie, if he hadn’t… where do you think you’d be now, at 27?”
Celia: “Married to someone Dad picked for me.”
GM: “I know I’d still be drowning in medical debt and getting my wages garnished. Livin’ in that crummy apartment.”
“We wouldn’t have met Emily, either.”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“Emily introduced Stephen and I, actually.”
“They… I think they had some classes together?”
“I told her to introduce me to someone cute and nice in exchange for some makeup tips, I think. She knocked it out of the park.”
GM: Dani nods. “They went out on two dates, but she said she was too busy with work and school to make a regular thing of it. So things never went anywhere with them.”
Celia: Celia’s smile tightens. She busies herself with the food on her plate.
“They never mentioned.”
GM: “Maybe she thought that would complicate things, sweetie,” says Diana. “Since he was your first boy.”
Celia: It shouldn’t bother her. It was years ago. Stephen is dead, and she has Roderick, and Roderick chose her.
But it does.
She makes a vague sound and cuts another piece of meat to shove into her mouth.
That’s the benefit of being mortal, she supposes: the built in excuse that she can’t talk with her mouth full.
GM: “Stephen had other girlfriends, too, in the past. But none he was as into as you,” says Dani.
Celia: Ah, well, that makes her feel better about breaking his heart.
She can’t keep track anymore.
Maybe he should have tried harder with Emily. She’s going to be a doctor soon. She’s so smart.
They can go be smart together.
GM: Doctor and lawyer. Sounds like a more natural pairing than esthetician and lawyer.
Celia: Esthetician with an online medical degree, which is almost like it’s fake.
GM: The corpses she dissected (and created) are real enough.
But that might be worse than fake in his eyes.
Celia: All those issues with “lying” and he’d never told her that he’d fucked her sister.
Who’s the fucking liar now.
Maybe he even put it in Roxanne, too.
And Ryllie. Why not.
She’ll throw Lucy at him next time he comes over to see if he wants to complete the Flores Girls.
GM: “You okay, sweetie?” her mom asks, rubbing her shoulder.
Celia: “Didn’t realize he and Emily hooked up.”
GM: “I don’t know if they did,” says Dani. “Just that they went on two dates.”
Celia: He’d hooked up with her on their first.
“Not the sort of thing he’d tell you though,” Celia points out.
She swallows more shit.
And it sits, like a lead weight, in the pit of her borrowed stomach.
She doesn’t miss this feeling.
GM: “I guess not,” says Dani. “Athough-”
“I don’t think we need to discuss your brother’s history in that area, Danielle,” says Mr. Garrison over some greens.
“Right. Sorry, Daddy.”
Celia: Maybe she’ll fuck his sister.
Let him see how it feels.
Celia spears a piece of fruit with the tines of her fork and brings it to her mouth.
GM: It’s squishier.
But tastes just as ashen.
Celia: It joins the rest of the garbage she’ll need to evacuate later.
She lets her mother find a new topic of discussion, her thoughts on her missing boyfriend.
GM: Diana continues to tell the story and brings up all the help that Vivian and Stephen were with her and Celia’s assorted legal travails. Mr. Garrison listens, attentively but largely silently. Danielle finally asks, “Can I ask something, Mrs. Flores?”
“Oh of course, Danielle.”
“Your mom is a judge, Payton Underwood. Why didn’t you just go to her, at any point?”
Celia: Celia glances at her mother.
GM: “We weren’t on good terms, unfortunately,” Diana answers. She keeps her voice more sad than cool.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Dani.
“Me too. But Celia went to her for help too, I’ll get to that later in the story, and she sees Lucy semi-regularly these days.”
It’s technically not a lie. Just leaves out the ‘still are.’
“That’s good,” says Dani.
“I’ve worked with her. She’s a decent woman,” says Mr. Garrison.
“Tough. Won’t be intimidated.”
Celia: “I’ve always found her so.” Celia pushes another berry around on her plate. She hasn’t seen her since she learned that she’d sent her mother to the Dollhouse.
GM: She’ll want to see Lucy again at some point.
Celia: The second Lucy, anyway.
Celia still hasn’t decided what she’ll say.
Or how she should feel.
Stephen would know.
But Stephen is dead.
GM: Roderick, too.
She’ll find him.
GM: Diana continues the story. How Stephen was patient and understanding, but also unrelenting when he realized the full depth of the Flores family’s situation. How he gave his and Viv’s numbers even when Diana didn’t seem like she wanted to use them, and how he turned out to be right when Diana finally set up the meeting after more encouragement from Celia. How nervous she was for that first consultation. How she brought Celia along, “Even though she couldn’t sit in, privilege and all, and mainly wound up sittin’ in the waiting room to make her mom feel less scared,” she describes ruefully.
Celia: “All we had to do was file a police report after that,” Celia adds. Her brow furrows. “Oh, Grandma did help there. She gave us the number to call. Told us to ask for someone specific, someone like her that wouldn’t be afraid of Dad.”
GM: There’s slower chewing as Celia brings up Richard Gettis.
“He was definitely that,” Diana murmurs.
Celia: Celia watches Mr. Garrison, though she’s as unobtrusive about it as she can be.
GM: “It’s a tragedy,” says Stephen’s father. “Stephen told me the details. Detective Gettis was one of the NOPD’s finest officers before he became a murderer.”
Celia: “Did you know him, Mr. Garrison?”
GM: “In passing. We had more contact when I was an ADA.”
“He helped put a lot of bad people behind bars.”
Celia: Another nod.
“Grandma said the same.”
GM: “It’s just such a tragedy,” Diana repeats. “I taught both of those girls, in my classes. Just such sweet girls.”
“One of my co-workers lost her job, too, in the fallout.”
“Oh, who?” asks Dani.
“Ms. Perry,” answers Diana. “You wouldn’t have had any classes with her, though, Dani. She started at McGehee after your time.”
“That’s too bad,” frowns Dani. “I suppose it beats being shot, though. I had some classes with one of the Devillers. Adeline. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for the families.”
Celia: “I’m friends with her sister. The oldest. Cécilia.”
And Caroline. Sort of. Are they friends? She’s not quite sure. Hard to be, sires who they are.
“She implied the, erm, pressures of the job got to him when we spoke about it.”
GM: “There has been extensive investigation into Richard Gettis,” says Mr. Garrison. “I am inclined to agree with your grandmother. The man had no family, friends, or interests outside of his job.”
“Frontline police work is highly stressful. Homicide work is even more so. These people are exposed to the worst of humanity on a regular basis.”
“Richard Gettis did not have any stabilizing influences in his life.”
Celia: Like Mr. Garrison himself, if Dani’s words can be believed. She glances at the girl, then back to her dad.
“Aren’t you as well, Mr. Garrison? Stephen used to tell me about the pressures of your position as well. The danger, with who you go after.”
Easy to see Mr. Garrison going down that same road, isn’t it. Son dead. Daughter dead, technically.
GM: “My job is not easy, but I am more insulated than Detective Gettis from many of the stresses he faced. Death threats against judges and prosecutors have grown increasingly common in recent years, and are most commonly leveled by organized crime groups, but actual murders remain rare. The Prosecutors Memorial at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center, which honors prosecutors killed during the performance of their duties, has fewer than 20 names.”
“Oh, when did that go up?” asks Diana.
“2004,” Mr. Garrison answers. “The first name is from 1982.”
“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty is far higher.”
Celia: “That isn’t quite what I meant, Mr. Garrison. I know you’re not on the ground level like an officer, but it’s still a high stress, high stakes world, and Stephen mentioned…” she trails off for a moment, then finally plunges forward. “Well, he mentioned things the organized crime families would try to do to intimidate your family, your father’s family. And, forgive me if this is overstepping, but Dani mentioned that your life has become mostly work and sleep.”
She offers a gentle smile.
“I’m not saying that you might crack. You strike me as a hard man to crack, personally. But if you’d like an outlet, something to do outside of work, somewhere you can… I hate to say relax, but…”
“There’s always a chair open for you, I guess is what I’m saying.”
GM: “There is only one organized crime family with a grudge against mine,” Mr. Garrison corrects. “Their attempts at intimidation have never amounted to anything more than scare tactics. None of us have been placed in physical danger or lost our lives. I am too prominent a public official to be safely killed. The prosecution of my murder would dominate the focus of my successor’s term.”
He casts a faintly reproachful look at his daughter when Celia talks about his life, then turns back to her.
“I will have to decline. My available free time is extremely limited.”
“Well, we’re just glad to have you here tonight,” Diana smiles. “And that does explain why you don’t have a protective detail. Lucky us, not needing to prepare extra food.” She doesn’t chuckle, but she does smile a little wider.
“I receive details on an as-needed basis. Only the mayor has a permanent one,” says Mr. Garrison.
“But they eat while they are off-duty.”
Celia: He wasn’t this cold when she’d met him the first time. Maybe she’d pushed too soon.
GM: “I read about the ex-wife of India’s prime minister needing to cook meals for her protective detail,” says Dani. “All the time. The article also said they’d sleep in her house, be slobs in the bathroom, and basically bum free room and board off of her.”
Celia: “Sounds kind of like a cultural thing. Isn’t India a little backwards in their treatment of women in general?”
GM: “She said she didn’t even want them, they were such a pain to put up with. But yeah. Just a lot more corruption and… sleaziness. And sexism.”
Celia: “We’re still guilty of that here, to some degree.”
GM: “I guess the Pavaghis have brought over a taste of that, though,” says Dani.
“I think they owned my old apartment, actually,” says Diana.
Dani shakes her head. “Guess that’s no surprise. Slumlords.”
“Hasn’t Rich Pavaghi’s wife gone to your spa a few times, actually?” asks Celia’s mom.
Celia: “She has, yes. She’s a regular, actually.”
“Well, since they moved back here, anyway.”
GM: “Oh, I thought they lived in Kenner?” says Dani. “That’s, what, a 40 minute drive both ways?”
“Well, my baby’s very talented at what she does,” Diana smiles proudly, wrapping an arm around Celia.
Celia: Celia laughs.
“I doubt I’m the only reason she makes the drive.”
“But I’d meant moving closer from Baton Rouge, anyway.”
GM: “Ah, true. She’s got a million kids and grandkids in the city,” says Dani. “Probably comes over for them too.”
“She’s devoted to her kids, I’ll give her that,” nods Diana. “She moved in with her son when he was elected governor, to help out, as I remember.”
“Basically sidelined his wife in the media, though,” says Dani. “Strikes me more as controlling than devoted. I guess lucky for her kids and grandkids she has so many. Diffuses attention.”
Celia: “One of them is over at Bloom Couture. Have you been, Mr. Garrison?”
GM: “I have not,” he answers.
“It’s a very pretty place,” smiles Diana. “I get a lot of my gardening supplies there. But I doubt you have time for that sort of thing, with your job.”
Mr. Garrison simply nods as he cuts up another chicken thigh.
“Does it feel skeezy working on your mom’s old slumlord?” asks Dani. “The whole family is just so… scummy.”
Celia: “Honestly? No. I can’t let it get to me. Once someone is on my table it’s really just their body I’m looking at, and I put everything else away. There was someone once… early, I was still kind of new to it, but I knew him from college. He was kind of… I hate to say bully, but he was. I don’t think he recognized me, but I remembered him, and I just had to ignore it and deal with the fact that he was on my table. It’s a shift in power dynamics for sure, and it was weird for a minute, but then I just let it go.”
It had helped that she was a vampire and he was still kine, but she doesn’t mention that to Mr. Garrison.
GM: “Oh. What’d he do to you?” asks Dani.
“As a bully.”
Celia: “Before I met Stephen I was invited to a party by some of the people from one of my dance classes. Was supposed to just be a small thing, a break from the production, and I figured no big. They said no alcohol, it wouldn’t be wild. But, ah, one of them brought a flask they started passing around, and then they got bored of hanging out with just our small group and wanted to go to a ‘real’ party, so we ended up on Greek Row. You ever meet someone and just know they’re bad news? He was that kind of person.” Celia shakes her head. She doesn’t look like she wants to get into the rest of it.
GM: Her mother looks at her concernedly.
“I’m sorry,” says Dani. “The parties at Tulane can get… out of hand.”
“But you don’t see anything when someone is on your table,” says Diana, changing the subject for her. “You’ve said that to me, how they become just a body you need to work on, and pretty much all bodies are the same.”
GM: “What do you think you’ll want to do with me when I come in?” asks Dani. “Or is that better as a surprise?”
Celia: “Mmm, depends on what you’re looking for. We could keep it simple, with a massage or facial, or get into some other things. If you want to relax and unwind, though, nothing really beats a massage. I generally tailor things to the client, though.”
She doesn’t pointedly look at Mr. Garrison , but she does sweep her gaze past him all the same.
“Dessert?” she asks at large. “Should I get the pie, Momma?”
“You can finish telling Mr. Garrison without me interrupting,” she adds with a slight smile.
GM: “I think a massage sounds good, then,” says Dani.
“That also sounds good, sweetie, you can find it in the oven,” her mom smiles back. “There’s whipped cream in the fridge, too!”
“I’ll help,” says Dani, rising from her seat and gathering up some of the plates.
“Oh, Dani, you’re a guest,” starts Diana.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Flores. You can tell my dad the rest of the story yourself.”
“All right, if you’re sure.”
Celia supposes she’s spent enough time talking about her boyfriend for one night.
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
GM: Dani carries out plates and serving containers with Celia.
“So Stephen said something about you two wanting to set our parents up?”
Celia: Celia gathers what she can, moving into the kitchen to scrape things into the compost bin, rinse plates, put some of the dishes away, and fill the dishwasher.
“Mm, he mentioned it. I don’t think I’m helping.”
GM: “Oh, why not?”
Celia: “I’m pretty sure your dad hates me and every time I open my mouth he’s reminded that I left Stephen.”
GM: “I don’t think he hates you,” says Dani as she helps out. “Believe me, you’d know if he did.”
Celia: “‘Always have a plate open,’” Celia mutters. “Idiot.”
GM: “Plate open?”
Celia: Celia gives a disgusted sigh.
“Exactly. It makes no sense. Why would I say that. Because I’m an idiot, Dani.”
GM: “Oh. You meant chair.”
“Yeah, sorry. Dad is just… really business-focused. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a spa.”
Celia: “The sentiment remains the same, he blew it off.”
“I was talking about inviting him back to dinner again.”
GM: “That might be better, actually. Since he still has to eat.”
Celia: “I already did, Dani. Didn’t you hear him? He said no.”
GM: “Sorry? You just invited him to the spa, if I wasn’t zoning out?”
Celia: “No. Before that. When you asked about my grandma and he mentioned the cop. I invited him back.”
GM: “Oh. I thought you meant the spa.”
Celia: “I didn’t invite him to the spa at all.”
“I mean if he wants to come, sure, but it doesn’t seem like his groove.”
GM: “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
“Maybe we can clarify?”
“I think it would be good for him to get out more.”
“Or at least, get in, somewhere else with different people.”
Celia: She thought she’d been perfectly clear.
GM: “I think it’d be good for him to date again too. He just doesn’t have any patience for it.”
Celia: “I think it would be weird to date my stepbrother, but… my mom would be good for him. Your dad.”
“She’s got a lot of love and patience.”
GM: “I think so. She made him feel all manly with the car, too.”
Celia: “Yeah. Like that. Give him something to do with his hands. Makes them feel needed.”
GM: “You also did that with the cops who shook you down. When he said he’d do something about it.”
Celia: Celia smiles at her.
GM: “I hope he does, too. I can’t believe they tried to extort you.”
“Well, I can. It’s just awful.”
Celia: “They’re all awful.”
“Your dad is one of the last few remaining good ones.”
“Him and… well. Stephen.”
GM: Dani shakes her head. “There are plenty of good cops, lawyers, and judges. It’s just… a lot of things are rigged against them.”
“But that’s a bigger topic.”
“What do you think we can do to set them up?”
Celia: “What does he like to do? Or used to like to do?”
GM: “He might be if he went there. He just… isn’t that interested in trying new things, anymore.”
“He used to be. Before Stephen.”
Celia: “If he were around I’d just suggest a double date.”
GM: “Oh, that’s an idea.”
“Though I’ll call it a victory just to get him to go.”
“Maybe try not to frame it as a date, too.”
Celia: “Well. Maybe Mom can say she wants to check out the new exhibit or something.”
“And I’ll offer to watch Lucy.”
GM: “Maybe we could all go? That feels less like a date. Explains why your mom wants to go, too, show Lucy a museum.”
Celia: “Oh, that’s better.”
“Maybe they have a late night?”
GM: “He’s busy during the day, anyway, so. And your mom knows you can only do nights.”
Celia: “Alright. We’ll make it work, then. Maybe Stephen will be able to make it.”
GM: “I hope so. For him.”
“Dad, at least, I don’t think would mind one less stranger.”
“Should your mom know we’re trying to set them up?”
Celia: “I dunno. She’s kind of set on seeing Maxen again.”
“Might just put my foot down there.”
“Trying to see how it goes tonight with some leads I have to follow.”
GM: “Leads with your dad?”
GM: “I dunno that you can stop her from seeing him if she wants to. I mean, she’s your mom.”
Celia: “I can if I tell her the truth.”
“And make it a lick politics thing.”
“Which it is.”
GM: “I dunno, if there was a guy I loved… did lick politics stop you and Stephen?”
Celia: It might have.
GM: “I mean, you aren’t supposed to be seeing each other, but it’s not gotten in the way.”
Celia: “Hasn’t it? We have to hide from everyone. Someone touched me last week and he was going to challenge him to a duel for the insult.”
GM: “That’s kinda romantic,” Dani smiles.
Celia: “We got jumped by hunters and everyone thinks he’s the only one who did anything to stop them.”
“It was, yeah.”
Celia can’t help but smile too.
GM: “I bet he’d win, too. You guys were incredible against those mobsters.”
Celia: “Yeah, well, it didn’t end up happening.”
“Next time, I guess.”
GM: “Yeah. So, you wanna set up the WWII museum outing?”
Celia: “Guess so. Wanna grab the pie? Ovens don’t always agree with my kind. I’ll get the whipped cream.”
GM: “Okay,” says Dani, getting some mitts and opening the oven. “Why don’t they?”
“Rather not risk it with this many people around.”
GM: “Can’t hurt,” Dani agrees as she hefts the pie dish.
Celia: Celia locates the whipped cream and serving utensils and starts towards the door. She stops, though, before she crosses the threshold, and turns to look at Dani once more.
“Did he sleep with her?” she asks in a low voice. “Emily. Did he?”
GM: “Um. I’m honestly not sure,” Dani answers. “Does it matter, though? It was forever ago. And I can definitely tell you he was nowhere nearly as into her.”
Celia: “I don’t know why I care,” she mutters.
GM: “You seemed, well… insecure about the relationship, honestly, when we talked,” says Dani. “This feels like more of that.”
Celia: “He’s smarter than me. Stronger than me. Faster than me. Better than me. He called me a whore. What’s not to be insecure about?”
“And now he’s gone, and I can’t find him. And it’s my fault he’s a vampire, and probably my fault he’s gone.”
GM: Dani sets down the pie and rests her hands on Celia’s shoulders.
“Look. He’s not better than you, and he doesn’t think so. He’s sorry he hurt you. Really sorry. He wants your guys’ relationship to work. It means the world to him.”
Celia: “He left.”
“He didn’t come back.”
GM: “He’s left me too.”
“But he’s gonna come back.”
“I mean, what, is he going to just disappear forever?”
GM: “He didn’t before, when you broke up. He just… wanted space.”
Celia: “What if he’s dead? What if he didn’t make it somewhere safe this morning? What if more hunters picked him up? What if Carolla’s goons found him?”
What if Savoy did something to him?
What if he went to confront Coco and she smacked him back down to size?
GM: “He’s tough and smart. Isn’t he?” says Dani.
Celia: “He was also angry and hurt.”
GM: “All right, so, what can we do, besides worry?”
Celia: “Get through dinner and find him.”
GM: “Okay. You want to go look for him?”
Celia: “I have a loose end to tie up. Then yes, before Elysium, I’d like to look.”
GM: “Okay. I’ll go with you.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“Dessert first, though.”
GM: “He’s not in love with Emily, by the way. He took it pretty casually when they had to stop seeing each other. And that was seven years ago, when he was human.”
Celia: “They still fucked. And he never told me. And she never told me.”
“Whatever. I don’t care.”
The more she thinks about it the more she realizes it’s true. She doesn’t care. Celia is dead. Stephen is dead. Roderick is probably dead, too. What’s left to cherish? Why not take the last of her happy memories from her, tarnish them with the idea that Emily and Stephen hooked up and she got her sister’s sloppy seconds? Everything else is already ruined, anyway.
GM: “I don’t think they were trying to lie to you. I think it just never registered as important. It was two dates. Ending things with Emily basically got a ‘too bad’ and then he moved on to other girls. Ending things with you destroyed his world.”
Celia: “I don’t care,” Celia says again.
GM: “You do care. I just don’t want this to hurt you more.”
Celia: “You brought it up."
GM: “You’re being defensive.”
Celia: “Of course I’m being defensive! I was supposed to be a one night stand. He told me that. He said that to me, that’s all I was supposed to be. Emily introduced us because he was looking to get laid and she wanted to show me a good first time and had already sampled the goods. And I’d never been with anyone, and he offered to make it special, and he did. And it was a lie. The whole thing was a lie. And years later I’m still in love with him and he’s not. He left. And he didn’t come back.”
“We were supposed to talk. We were supposed to clear the air between us so we could be together. And he never came back. He doesn’t care.”
“So don’t. Don’t tell me that our relationship is important to him when he couldn’t be bothered to show up.”
GM: “Celia, do you really think your relationship doesn’t matter to him? That boom, just like that, he dropped something with seven years of history?”
Celia: Celia sighs down at her.
“You didn’t see his face last night, Dani. You didn’t hear his voice.”
GM: “How does that even matter if they slept together? How does that make what you had a lie? He had girlfriends before you! Long-term ones, even.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t expect her to understand. She’s never had a boyfriend. Never been through anything to do with the heart. Doesn’t know Stephen, not like Celia does, not that way. The romantic way. The “on the other end of his fists” way. The broken way. Twice broken, her fault both times, isn’t it? Explaining it to her isn’t going to make her understand any better. It’s like the frenzy thing: she had to see it to get it.
“Come on,” she says, “the story isn’t that long.”
Dani doesn’t know the truth, anyway.
But Emily does.
She’ll find it when she finds him.
Friday evening, 18 March 2016
Celia: She leads the way back into the dining room, forcing a smile.
“Dessert has arrived.”
“Oh, th-thank you, you two,” Diana smiles as the two arrive. She looks a little emotional as they set the pie down and dabs at her eyes.
Celia: Celia touches a hand to her shoulder after she sets the whipped cream down on the table, brows lifted.
GM: “Just retellin’ the whole story, baby, and what a brave, sweet, kind-hearted boy Stephen was,” answers her mom, laying a hand on top of Celia’s. “Gets me a little emotional.”
“Me as well, Diana,” answers Mr. Garrison. His voice is slightly uneven.
Celia: Celia nods in understanding. She gives her mom’s shoulder a squeeze.
GM: Her mom smiles at her and turns to the dessert.
“So this is a mostly classic shoofly pie, it’s got molasses and crumbs and pie crust, pretty much, but I added some chocolate chips too. Thought we’d experiment and see how the flavors combine.”
“Celia, I know how much you want to watch your figure for those Instagram posts, do you still want any?”
Celia: “I might pass, if that’s all right. Molasses is a little heavy for me. I can take a slice to Emi, though.”
GM: Her mom nods. “It’s okay. There’s nothin’ healthy in dessert. And that would be very thoughtful, sweetie, though with Victor and Shadow…”
Celia: “I’ll make it quick.” Celia cuts a piece, then a smaller one for Lucy, and heaps a mountain of whipped cream atop them both. She nabs two forks and is out the door before anyone can ask if she’s allergic to cats or what.
Quick steps take her across the yard to the carriage house, where she knocks twice on the door and says, “Hey it’s Celia, brought dessert, wanna come out a sec, Em?”
GM: Carriage room, technically, as Emily enjoys calling it. Her voice answers, “Sure, out in a sec,” a moment later. The door opens before too much rain can patter against her umbrella.
“Thanks, pie wouldn’t have been Instagram-worthy if we’d cut slices earlier.”
Celia: “Can’t have that.”
“Hey, so it came up at dinner that you and Stephen used to date. Why didn’t you tell me you’d hooked up?”
“Didn’t realize we were eskimo sisters.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows.
GM: Emily laughs. “Well, we only went out a couple times before I told him it wouldn’t work. He took it pretty well.”
Celia: “But you did. Hook up.”
GM: “Ah, geez. Are you feeling grossed out?”
Celia: “Tell me.”
“Tell me if you slept with him.”
“It doesn’t matter, it was before we were together, he’s dead and gone, but I’d like to know.”
“So did you?”
Celia waits. Expectant.
It shouldn’t take this long to get an answer. The pie is probably getting cold. It’s a yes or no question. One syllable. That’s all it is. Three letters at most. Just say it, Emily. Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie, that I’ve never even had my own boyfriend because someone else got to him first. Did you tell him I’d be easy? Did you say that I’d be down for a one night stand because I was curious about sex? Did you tell him he could pop my cherry? And, what, he stayed because I was too stupid to realize what the two of you had done? Did you laugh about it afterwards? Was it like one of those shitty teenage movies where you set a dude up with a girl as a joke and he falls for her and then she finds out and it ruins everything?
Because that’s what this will do. Ruin everything. Them sleeping together kills everything she’d ever felt for him. Everything. There’s not an ounce of it left if they slept together. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s dead.
She had this. This one thing that was special. This one thing she could cherish from her mortal life.
It’s just one word.
Just say it.
GM: That’s when Celia feels it. Descending like a shadow over the moon.
The familiar icy hand locked in sudden death grip around her heart.
Her head whips to the house’s roof, as though grabbed by a magnet.
He’s there. Perched on it like some enormous black bat come home to roost.
Her sire has arrived.