Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
Celia: One of the girls inside of Jade takes her time moving past the pair of Anarchs once the masked harpy takes his leave. She occupies herself with other art, other conversations, looks for all the world as if she is not watching him. As if she has not noticed him. As if his mere proximity has not left her dead heart racing.
She broke him.
But they can still be beautiful.
She waits for an opening. She makes idle chatter with one of the Baron’s girls, the one she’d needed to speak to anyway, and through veiled comments and clever word play sets up a meeting outside of Elysium where the pair of them can let their hair down.
She speaks to the thief about something similar.
She sends a text to a cabin boy about a party and a new friend his friend might like to meet, and maybe they should set them up. She’d love to bring her by.
And another text to a jock with a smile worthy of a rattler asking if he has a moment to “chill.”
The broken-hearted boy stays in her peripheral.
GM: Amandine is sour but at the prospect of meeting with one of Savoy’s people, but willing to do so in return for an owed boon.
The thief, in contrast, is happy to do so. They can talk after Elysium tonight or at the party tomorrow.
The cabin boy texts back that he’s always happy the meet new friends. Especially fuckable ones.
Well, more like only fuckable ones.
Ditto attending parties.
The jock does have a free moment that chill.
The broken-hearted boy is keeping her in his peripheral.
And beneath the carefully neutral mask, he does not look happy.
Celia: Jade agrees to the boon with a tight smile and says she’ll see the girl later. She’s happy the thief is happy to see her, at least, but opts for tomorrow. She has another meeting this evening, unfortunately. She lets the cabinboy know that the theme is the ’20s and asks if he wants her to doll him up to be a fuckable little bitch again. Maybe Joy would like to go. She can meet him beforehand. The jock gets a time and place.
At some point Jade excuses herself from her present company to take a final stroll. Alone. Maybe towards the car lot, if no one is going that way, or deeper into the park if so. The bait is set if the boy wants to follow.
GM: It’s a date with the first too.
The cabin boy is happy to go as a cabin girl. Easier to get with, too.
The jock will see her there.
The boy waits a good amount of time, so they don’t seem to be leaving together.
Then he follows her off.
The mask drops away. His face is angry.
Celia: When isn’t it?
Jade disappears, the coward, and Leila has already decided that this isn’t her talk. Celia meanders toward her car, but there’s nowhere to have this conversation. Even the appearance of being alone doesn’t actually mean anything. She’d thought she was alone in the shower, too, and the shadow dancer had shown her the error there.
GM: That’s why Veronica had chastised her for not learning to soul scry. Does she want to be caught with her pants down?
Celia: It’s so boring. Her mind has much more going on than the normal person’s. There are so many of her. But she’d be happy to learn that trick her sire and Harlequin can do.
Celia pulls her phone from her pocket as if it had rung, answering with a brief, “hello?” A pause. A smile. Then, “Hey, babe. Yeah, I have a free minute. I’ll swing by. Talk to you soon.”
Surely he knows she means him. He can follow her to another location and they can have it out. She gets into her car and starts to drive, trusting that he’ll follow. There’s only one road out of here; nothing suspicious about that.
GM: Her trust proves aptly placed. He gets in and follows with his own car.
Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie that she’s on her way to his place. Might as well stop by while she’s already in the area. And it’s less weird if Roderick stays in Mid-City. He doesn’t want to be seen entering the Quarter, but Jade’s face isn’t unwelcome here. She drives in the general direction of Legal Wings, then pulls her car into an out of the way spot and turns off her lights. She unlocks her passenger door for him.
GM: He gets out of the car, seizes her by the throat, lifts her off her heels, and slams her hard against the vehicle’s side.
“Not what it looks like?” he asks conversationally, vice-like fingers cutting off the air supply she doesn’t need.
Celia: This is certainly not how she thought it would go.
Perhaps that was stupid of her.
The last of her air is forced from her lungs when he slams her against her own car, hands flying to his wrist as if to pry him off of her. But she stops before she even starts, simply holding onto his wrist. There’s no fear in her eyes. She knows how much he hates the scared woman act. Still, pinned as she is, she can’t speak. There’s no air left for her. Her lips move soundlessly, then she finally gives a tiny nod. She taps against his fingers to silently ask him to release her.
GM: His fingers un-clench. Slightly.
But he doesn’t release her.
Her Beast snarls in her ears.
Celia: There’s a lot of snarling in her ears these nights. From Beasts and masks and personalities. From her sire and Harlequin and Alana, all of them clamoring for something else. Another piece of her. Another part of her.
And now Roderick has come to demand his piece, too.
She sucks down what air she can. Not to breathe, just to speak.
“Set up,” she gets out. The sound is tiny; it’s an effort to keep it from sounding strangled. “Cover up. Can explain.”
GM: He just waits.
Just holds her.
Crushed against her car.
His expression is flat.
Celia: Jade wriggles her pinky between his fingers and her throat. She doesn’t otherwise move, eyes locked on his face.
“Taking down Agnello. Needed assistance. He has reason to help. Once he’s gone, two down. Just him. Shift the blame his way. Get him out too. Easier to take down the rest of who you want. Meantime, gather intel. Who, what, where. For you. It’s for you.”
GM: “Really,” he says.
“Working with Mafia scum.”
“Without asking me.”
Celia: Her Beast snarls at that, too. She doesn’t need his permission.
There’s another part of her that likes it, though. Her throat bobs against his palm when she swallows.
“You have other things on your mind. I wanted to help.”
GM: Lightning-fast, a stake appears in Rod’s hand and rams towards her heart.
She feels her limbs go completely stiff as the wood pierces bone like flesh.
Her lover just looks at her with that same calm-faced expression.
Celia: All she can do is stare back.
GM: Roderick picks her up, returns to his car, and unlocks the trunk, and lays her inside. He doesn’t dump her in, but neither is he gentle. She gets a last look at his face, as he removes her car keys, and then the lid slams down.
A short while passes, and then she feels movement underneath as the car drives.
Maybe this was how her mom felt, seven years ago.
Trussed up and helpless in the back of a car.
Being driven off towards an unknown fate.
Celia can even see the glow-in-the-dark release lever.
Did her mom see one, too?
Celia: Terror takes her firmly in its grasp. She can’t move. Can’t see. Can’t cry for help or press the release button or shift forms.
And unlike when her sire has hold of her, the fear of this new, unknown Roderick is very, very real. Thick and cloying, it fills the trunk.
Where is he taking her?
What is he going to do to her?
Her mind races with possibilities: leaving her for the sun. Dumping her in a fire, or trash compactor, or saw mill. Turning her in for her bastard blood. Taking her to his sire to rip apart.
The tears come but they don’t fall. Nothing in her body works. She can only lie where he set her, eyes on the glowing lever, and pray that something inside of him still cares for her.
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
GM: Celia has a decent while to pray. The car drives on for a while. She has no idea where they’re going. No idea what will happen when they get there.
Eventually, the car comes to a stop. The ignition dies. The trunk opens up. Roderick stares down at her. They’re in a parking garage.
Without a word, he picks her up and slings her over his shoulder. The stake pushes a little deeper. He closes the trunk, locks the car, looks around, then takes the stairs up. All Celia can see is floor.
“Whoa, hey, she all right?” asks an unfamiliar male voice.
She can’t see the speaker.
“Don’t worry about her,” says Roderick.
“She just did something dumb.”
“She’s lucky I’m here.”
Lucky he staked her. Kidnapped her. Put her in a trunk.
She can’t speak. Maybe she’d cry for help if she could. Or agree with him.
It could be worse, right? He could have done to her what he’d done to his brother.
GM: “She on something?” asks the other man.
“I’ve been pretty tolerant of her shit up until now,” Roderick says.
“But, you know, this evening…”
“She just doesn’t get it. She just doesn’t learn.”
“I think tonight may be an eye-opener, though.”
Celia: Stupid can be taught.
It just takes longer.
GM: Daddy knew that.
“Oh?” asks the other man.
“Yes,” says Roderick.
“Well, this has been a good talk, getting all of that off my chest. But I trust you’re going to keep what you’ve seen to yourself.”
“Hey, man, if she’s been outta line…” says the other man.
Celia: Run, she thinks.
GM: “You could drop her off in my place.”
The other man sounds like he’s grinning.
“We could tie her to the bed. When she wakes up, I could fuck her. Tied down. Then you could come in, ‘rescue’ her, and say this is what she gets when she pulls shit.”
Celia: She recoils at the thought.
GM: “That would probably be very instructive,” says Roderick thoughtfully.
“But… I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Elijah,” says the man.
“Elijah,” repeats Roderick.
“Well, Elijah, that’s very thoughtful of you to offer.”
In an instant, Roderick’s voice becomes venom.
“Except for how the thought of her being with someone else makes me want to bash in some fucking heads.”
There’s a sharp cry, and then a brutally hard crack before something heavy hits the ground.
There’s movement under Celia as Roderick turns around.
Then a heavy thump, thump, thump, thump.
Like a body rolling down a flight of stairs.
Celia: She wishes she could close her eyes. That she could close her ears. That she wasn’t here to witness this. There’s not even satisfaction. Just terror tinged with dismay, hot and sour in the back of her throat.
Is he dead? He can’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. Don’t let Roderick be that far gone.
GM: A door opens and closes.
She sees floor underneath her as Roderick keeps walking.
She hears some keys getting pulled out. A door opening.
He steps inside. Turns. Closes it. There’s more movement.
Roderick for a moment. Opens a cabinet or something. There’s a metallic sound.
White tile, now.
Roderick hefts her off, then drops her in a bathtub.
Not hard. But not gentle.
He takes out two pairs of handcuffs, snaps them around her wrists, then snaps each around the tub’s railings. He closes the door, turns back, then pulls out the stake.
He stares down at her. There’s no smile on his face.
“The window is securely closed, but turn into a cat or a bird and you’ll regret it.”
“So what do you have to say for yourself, Celia?”
Celia: The same wide eyes stare up at him from her new position in the tub. She can only imagine that, if she’s here, it’s going to get messy. The scent of blood stopped bothering her after her Embrace, but all she sees now is a dark hallway, a large form, a hacksaw. She has no stomach to clench. No bile to rise up her throat. No uneven breathing, no hammering of her heart against her ribcage, no cold sweat.
Just dread. Formless, overwhelming, all consuming horror.
What is he going to do to her?
“I’m…” Her voice comes out in a rasp. She swallows, but her mouth is dry. It’s always dry. She’s dead. “I’m sorry. I should have asked.”
GM: “You should have asked,” he repeats back.
Maybe he’s agreeing.
Maybe he’s mocking.
“That’s your problem, Celia.”
“Well, one of them.”
“You’re always going around behind my back. Weaving your little webs of lies.”
“I remember saying that to you, one time. How you’d told so many lies and changed your story so many times I couldn’t even keep the details straight anymore.”
He’s silent for a moment. His eyes sweep her shackled form.
“Do you know what a ‘Gordian knot’ is, Celia?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
GM: “Figures,” says Roderick.
Celia: It’s worse than a slap in the face.
GM: “It’s a Greek legend.”
“The legend goes, the people of an ancient city were without a king. An oracle at Telmissus decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox cart should become their king.”
“So one day, a peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox cart. He was immediately declared king.”
“Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. Midas tied the ox cart to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark.”
“The knot was impossibly complex. No one could even tell how it was fastened. No one was clever enough. An oracle declared that any man who could unravel this ‘Gordian knot’ was destined to become the ruler of all of Asia.”
“Now, it’s unclear exactly how long the Gordian knot went unsolved for, because this is a legend, but it was probably a very long time. Long enough that enough people tried and failed for the knot to gain a reputation as being unsolvable.”
He gives a warmthless smile.
“Like your lies, Celia.”
“They were so complex and convoluted and tugged so many of my heartstrings, that even I couldn’t solve them. You tied your own Gordian knot around me.”
“But returning to the story. One day, a young conqueror came to the city. Some say this young conqueror was the son of a god. Seers foretold a very special destiny for him. He, too, wanted to rule the world.”
“So, of course he tried to solve the Gordian knot. He expected he could. Greatness was his destiny. He had been schooled as a youth by Aristotle himself! But the knot was unsolvable, even for him.”
“So what do you suppose this brilliant young conqueror and son of a god did to solve the unsolvable knot, Celia?”
Celia: She doesn’t know. She doesn’t want to know. She doesn’t want to learn how he’s going to solve the knot.
“…cut it?” Her voice is faint.
GM: “That’s exactly what he did, Celia,” Roderick smiles.
“He drew his sword and cut the knot in half with a single stroke.”
“It seems crude, until you think about it.”
“The prophecy never said how someone had to unravel the knot, if they wanted to rule Asia. They just had to unravel it. There was no requirement beyond that. Only our young conqueror was smart enough to come at the problem from another angle. To have the awareness to choose the path of least rather than maximum resistance.”
“In the end, all of the knot’s complexity was illusory.”
Celia: He’s going to kill her.
Tears leak from the corners of her eyes. He’s going to kill her. She’s going to die here. In this bathtub. Cuffed to the railing. He’s going to wash her ashes down the drain.
GM: “The knot was only an obstacle to people who were blind and shortsighted enough t… now why are you crying, Celia?”
Celia: “Don’t,” she whispers. “Please, don’t.”
GM: He yanks her hair almost hard enough to rip it out. Her scalp screams.
“I’ve had just about fucking enough of the scared woman act.”
Celia: The words die. She bites her lip to keep from making any noise, eyes squeezed tightly shut against the flow of red while she nods again and again.
GM: “Now, the way the story ends, that was that. The young conqueror cleaved the knot in half.”
“So you know what he did?”
“He went on to conquer all of Asia. From Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey if you didn’t know, all the way to the Indus and the Oxus. Those are rivers in India.”
“And his name was Alexander. Alexander the Great.”
“You do know who that is?”
Celia: She nods again.
“I think the comparison between the legend and our relationship is very obvious, don’t you?”
“How there’s actually a very simple way to deal with all of your lies. All of your manipulations. All of your tears.”
“I was so fixated, for so long, on working through problems and dramas you’d created, and working through them on terms you’d set.”
“I thought if I was just smart enough I could solve them all.”
Celia: He’s going to kill her.
And she can’t even cry about it.
No one will know. No one will miss her. He’ll damn himself. Forever. Kill the girl who loves him, how do you come back from that?
Celia can’t move. She can’t breathe. She’s afraid to even look at him and she can’t let him see that. She shoves it down. She finds the edges of the fear and tries to smother it before it consumes her.
But she stays silent. She doesn’t trust herself to speak. She doesn’t know if there’s anything she can even say.
GM: “We have two options here, Celia. Two ways we can help you learn your lesson.”
“One. I can beat you into torpor. I’ll drop you off at the Evergreen, since Savoy and I are such good pals now. I doubt he’ll even mind I did that, so long as we stay pals.”
“But I’m not a brute like your father was, Celia. I’m not going to just do that to you without your consent.”
“No, I’m still considerate enough to give you a choice. Multiple choices. Which brings us to your second one.”
“I help you cut through a Gordian knot of your own. I’ll drop one of my lies. I’ll tell you a truth.”
“You’re not going to like it, though. You’re not going to like it at all.”
He smiles down at his handcuffed lover.
“So. What’s it going to be, Celia?”
Celia: “What about… what about after? After I pick. After you tell me, or beat me.”
She hates that she’s asking. Hates that she’s clinging so desperately to who he once was.
GM: “That will be up to you, Celia. If you’ve learned your lesson, and stop whoring around with mobster scum—or whoring around with anyone, for that matter—I don’t see any reason why things can’t go on like before.”
“So that’s a question to ask yourself, more than me. Will you mess things up?”
Celia: She shouldn’t be relieved.
She shouldn’t be thinking about going back to before.
She should be running and screaming as far and fast as she can.
But she can’t help the tears that drip down her cheeks. The desire for him to touch her gently, to put his arms around her, to hold her and let her cry and tell her… that he forgives her. That he loves her.
She’d never understood, but now she does, and her heart cracks for herself, for her mother, for Roderick.
“Which one will hurt more,” she finally asks.
GM: “You must decide for yourself, Celia,” her lover explains patiently.
“That rather defeats the purpose of offering you a choice if I tell you one choice is better, doesn’t it?”
There’s an almost amused smile.
One that says ‘of course she didn’t get it.’
Celia: “I don’t want the better one.”
GM: He smiles and strokes her cheek.
“That’s good, Celia.”
“That shows me you’re sorry.”
His hand feels so gentle against her skin.
There’s no tautness to it.
“But you still need to decide for yourself.”
Celia: Her eyes close at the touch. She turns her face into it. For just a moment she lets herself pretend they’re in bed together. She pretends that he doesn’t have her cuffed to a tub, that he isn’t going to beat her senseless or break her heart the moment she opens her mouth to decide.
Her sire had beaten her. He hadn’t left her unconscious. He’d given her blood afterwards, fed her from his own vein, slipped the collar around her neck. She still disappointed him this evening. Roderick has beaten her before as well. And they’re here. Because it hasn’t sunken in.
“I’ll heal. The bones. The muscles. It will hurt, but I’ll heal. You have to… have to live with what I did. Every night. Have to make the conscious decision to stay. It hurts more, in the end.”
She searches his face with her eyes.
GM: Roderick nods.
He strokes her cheek some more.
“So. You want the truth?”
GM: Roderick nods again and kneels down, closer to her level.
He moves his hand. Rests it on her shoulder.
He cups her face with his other hand. Turning it to meet his eyes.
Turning it so she cannot look away.
Celia: She doesn’t want it.
She doesn’t want it.
She doesn’t want it.
GM: That’s why she asked for it.
Then Roderick says:
“I was embellishing earlier. Yes, there are different kinds of intelligence. Different kinds of knowledge. Obviously, you know more than I do about medicine and biology. About cosmetics. About dance. But there was something else I omitted, and a lie by omission is still a lie.”
“The thing I omitted was the concept of averages. You add up the total value of something’s constituent parts, then you divide that value by its number of constituent parts. Which is a somewhat long-winded way of saying, the sum total of my knowledge and the value of that knowledge is greater than yours.”
“Unlike you, I didn’t drop out of college to half-ass my way through a joke ‘degree’ online. I earned a real college degree. I was raised in a household by two highly successful and academically and professionally accomplished parents, rather than a football brute and a ballet dancer. Every box I could tick in high school to academically distinguish myself, I ticked—did you know I was accepted into Yale? I declined, because I wanted to stay close to my family, and I knew my career would stay in New Orleans. I knew my life’s goal was to destroy the Mafia here.”
“I went to law school for three years and graduated top of my class. I received an informal but extremely comprehensive education from my sire that eclipsed any of my prior educational experiences. She taught me history, philosophy, political theory, warfare, and more subjects than you probably even know the names of. I went to London to study under my grandsire, who’s even more learned than my sire is.”
“And against all of that, Celia, you have… makeup.”
He gives her a patronizing smile.
Then he says it.
Two bullets right to the brain.
Celia: The impact shatters what’s left of her.
A thousand tiny pieces of her float away. They find the cracks in the window and wriggle through, dancing on the wind once they’re free. They swirl down the drain and land in sodden heaps in the sewer until they’re flushed out to the sea. They kiss his cheeks, his lashes, his lips, then settle in his lungs. More of them catch the draft beneath the door and spread through the apartment, the hall, the stairwell. They stick to Elijah’s blood on the cement steps.
They travel, the little tiny pieces of her that he breaks with two casual words, through space and time, through air and sky. They see.
A wooden face stares up at him. The blood stops circulating through her veins. Her mask disintegrates. Hollow eyes, sunken cheekbones, porcelain skin.
Dropout, dropout, dropout.
Like a dog walking on its hind legs.
Your dad’s right. You’re stupid. Pretty, but stupid.
This is all you’ll ever be good for.
Say you’re stupid, Celia.
I’m stupid, Daddy.
There’s my girl.
Her cheek rubs against his hand.
The laughter doesn’t stop.
The monster stares out at him from a lover’s eyes. It seethes. It hates. Him. Maxen. Preston. Isabel. Roxanne. All of them. It watches. It waits. It knows. The truth. The thing behind the mask. It calls the pieces of itself back. It makes a new mask.
The girl hurts. She’d wanted pain. She’d gotten it. Her giggle turns hysterical.
GM: The girl does hurt.
The girl hurts so much.
Control snaps like a flimsy leash. The Beast tears out, to visit that hurt upon its source.
Celia sees pure red. She hears the Beast’s frenzied screams. She feels pain. Pain around her cuffed wrists. Pain around her heeled feet, as she madly kicks and flails and throws herself against her bonds, screaming her hurt to the world. To the bathroom. To the author of all her hurt.
Then, just like that, it’s gone. Her lover is calmly pinning her down, one hand around her throat, another around one of her legs.
Waiting until her tantrum is over with.
Until her Beast exhausts itself, because she is unable to control it.
“Are you calm enough for me to remove my hands, Celia?” he asks patiently.
She wants to go back to the red. She wants to go back to the haze. She wants it to stop hurting. She wants to stop knowing. She wants him to lie to her. She wants him to tell her he made it up, that he said what he knew would hurt her like she’d hurt him. She wants him to tell her that he loves her, that it doesn’t matter, that he’s sorry, that he forgives her. She wants him to ask if she can forgive him, if she can still love him, broken as he is, if they can move on from this. She wants his hand between her legs and his mouth at her throat and her fingers in his hair.
She wants to be human again.
She wants someone else to carry the weight for a while.
She wants to not be afraid to look into a mirror because the face staring back at her isn’t her own.
She wants to go home, but there are so many that she doesn’t even know what that means now, and she’d thought it was with him but there’s no home here, just hurt, just pain, just tears. She wants to stop hurting. But it’s still there. Raw. Red. Angry. She pokes at the wound and wants to disappear inside of it.
But she doesn’t. Her Beast stays quiet.
The girl in the tub moves her lips to answer his question, her voice as hollow as the rest of her:
GM: He removes her hands.
Then he undoes her handcuffs.
Then he spreads his arms.
Spreads them wide to embrace her.
His face isn’t hard anymore.
There’s… it’s not sadness.
But he doesn’t lean it to hug her. He lets her accept his offered embrace. If that’s what she wants.
Celia: She sits up in the tub. Her eyes stay down, like a dog beaten one too many times. The movement of his arms draws her attention; maybe, for a moment, she thinks he means to hit her anyway. She stays still. And then she looks. And her face crumples. And she tucks herself against him, burying her face in his chest so he doesn’t see what he’s done to her.
GM: His strong arms envelop her.
Hold her close.
Hold her tight.
Hold her safe.
“It’s okay, Celia,” he murmurs in her ear.
“I still love you.”
GM: “You were scared that I wouldn’t, were you?”
He holds her close. Like there’s no one in the world but them.
“I understand you. I accept you. I love you.”
“I think this could actually be a very good thing for us.”
“We can be honest. We can tell the truth. It can’t hurt us, now that it’s out.”
“You don’t need to be smart, Celia. You can leave the heavy thinking to me. I’m here for you. I can be smart enough for us both.”
There’s a smile in his voice as he rubs her back. Strokes her hair.
“Does that sound good to you?”
Celia: She doesn’t want to be stupid. She wants him to be proud of her. Not like a parent with their child’s macaroni art, but like an equal. So she asks, quietly, when her voice is steady, if he’ll teach her.
GM: “Teach you to be smart, Celia?” he asks.
Celia: She starts to nod… then thinks better of it. She doesn’t want him to tell her it’s impossible.
GM: “The operative question, of course, is how smart. It’s easier to gain 5 lbs of muscle than 50 lbs. How much intellectual ‘weight’ do you want to put on?”
Celia: “Smart enough to not be stupid.”
GM: “Okay,” he says.
“We can do that.”
“You need to get a college degree.”
“A real one, at a brick and mortar school.”
“You need to major in something more intellectually challenging than dance, too.”
Celia: “How? It’s during the day.”
GM: “There are evening classes, Celia.”
Celia: Not all of the classes are offered at night. But she doesn’t argue with him.
GM: “Plenty of working adults who take those.”
GM: “Tulane is the best school in the city. I’d go there. You can disguise yourself to hide from the sheriff’s agents.”
GM: “Stealth mode on top makes you as hard to ferret out as any neonate can realistically expect to be. It also helps that you actually went to Tulane for a while and know the campus. You can blend in.”
He smiles. “Blending in is something you’re pretty good at.”
Celia: It’s lying and makeup. She doesn’t point it out.
GM: He finally pulls back and lays a hand on her shoulder.
“Now, Celia, there’s something else.”
Celia: She doesn’t know how much more she can take from him tonight.
But she doesn’t interrupt.
GM: “Letting Mafia scum put his arm around you is completely unacceptable. But there’s some measure of redemption for you in that.”
“You were acting out of stupidity rather than malice, weren’t you? You wanted to help me and just didn’t think it all the way through.”
Celia: Celia nods her head.
GM: “Good. Now tell me what you did wrong, in your own words, and what lesson you’ve learned from tonight.”
Celia: “I… let the Mafia scum touch me. I walked in with him. I made a scene. I didn’t ask you before I did it. I didn’t think about how it looked to you. I learned… I learned that… the knots. That I’m… what you think of me. That I was wrong. That you’re smart enough for both of us. That you can do the thinking for me. That when I’m wrong you’ll… give me a choice, and Savoy won’t care if you hurt me, and that you… still love me.”
Her eyes move to his face, searching for the answer to that question.
GM: “You’re right about everything up until ‘the knots’, Celia. ’ That doesn’t tell me what you’ve learned. That isn’t even grammatically correct.” His tone isn’t critical, but calm. Patient. “Try again. What did you learn there?”
Celia: Celia swallows. “You told me about the knot. The Gor… Gorgon…? Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot. I learned the story behind it, and how it was solved, and you solved mine for me.”
GM: “What was your Gordian knot, Celia? How did I solve it?”
Celia: “You told me that you were sparing my feelings when I asked the other night. That there’s different kinds of intellect, but there’s still average intellect, and you know more than me. You told me you went to London with your grandsire. Did you fly? Or take a boat?”
GM: “That’s not germane right now, Celia. I’ll answer your questions after we’re finished here,” Roderick says, his tone mildly chiding.
Celia: Celia drops her gaze.
“You told me that I’m stupid.”
GM: “Good,” he says with a slight smile. “Specificity in language is important. I was also going to correct ’I’m what you think of me.’ But ‘Roderick told me I’m stupid’ isn’t a direct answer to my question either, Celia.”
“So tell me: what did you learn?”
Celia: Her eyes, still on his chest, go vacant.
“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”
“I’m stupid, Daddy.”
“There’s my girl.”
GM: He waits. Patiently.
But he doesn’t back down.
Celia: Her hands twist on her lap. The pointy edge of a ring cuts into her skin when she rotates it over and over and over again.
“He broke her arm. She went out the window and he broke her arm. The guards took her back. She cried, but they didn’t care. He broke the other one.”
“She wouldn’t tell him what he wanted.”
“He put a leash on her. He punished her for lying. Eat it. Eat it. All of it.”
“You’re my cute little bunny.”
“There’s a blue dress with yellow sunflowers.”
“I heard him hiss.”
“There were two.”
“All I wanted was a pony.”
“I’m sorry I asked for the pony.”
“The Wish Bringer was my grandpa. But he cursed us.”
“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”
“I’m stupid, Daddy.”
“They don’t send girls there for being stupid.”
“He wants me to say I’m stupid. But I never did.”
Her finger bleeds.
GM: Roderick frowns.
“This is not a direct answer to my question, Celia.”
“I have no reasonable basis to conclude you’ve learned your lesson if you can’t tell me what the lesson was.”
Celia: Celia’s not here anymore.
Whoever else is tells him what he wants, though.
There’s a content smile as he touches her shoulder.
The two words her father never got her to say.
Two words she bled and suffered and screamed over his knee to avoid saying.
Because all he used to extract them was pain.
But she knows from Elyse, doesn’t she?
Soothing balms make hurtful things hurt so much deeper.
Pleasure and pain, rewards and punishment.
Kindness and cruelty.
One must exercise both for optimal results.
And Roderick is that smart, isn’t he?
Celia: “He’s smart enough for both of us.”
GM: “‘Roderick is smart enough for both of us,’” her lover corrects. “Specificity in language is important, Celia.”
Celia: Who is Celia?
She died years ago.
GM: “Everything else you said you learned is correct. And the answer to your implicit final question is yes.”
“I do still love you.”
“I love you very, very much.”
Celia: He’s the second monster to say that to her.
GM: He cups her face in his hands, then leans in to plant a soft kiss upon her lips.
He pulls away, then hoists her up out of the tub in a classic bridal carry, holding her effortlessly aloft in his grasp.
He smiles at her.
“Now how does some makeup sex sound?”
Celia: Whoever she is likes the sound of that. She snuggles closer, her lips at his neck.
Here, at least, she excels.
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
GM: The makeup sex is good. It’s different than normal, too. Roderick is more forceful, this time. More direct. He pins her down a lot, holding her tight in his implacable grip. He decides what positions they assume. When they change them. When and where Celia (or whoever is now here) can bite.
But he’s gentle, too. Tender. Soft. They go slow, until she begs to go fast. He asks if this or that feels good. He does more, when she says yes. He kisses her. He embraces her. He brushes her hair. He smiles down at her, blue eyes shining.
There’s more blood, this time. Their Beasts are closer to the surface. They hurt each other. But it’s the gentlest of hurts. The best of hurts. He lets her know where she will hurt, and tells herself to make herself ready, and hurt blossoms into pleasure.
So much pleasure.
Pleasure over which he is in full control.
And when they’re done, when they lie spent and finished and bloody in each other’s arms, he pulls her close into spooning, and wraps his arms around her. He leaves in close and nuzzles her neck as he whispers,
“That was exquisite, Celia.”
“I love you so much.”
Celia: The girl in the shell surrenders herself to him. She doesn’t want to think. She moves how he shows her to, bites when he tells her to, hurts how he wants her to. It aches. But it’s the good sort of ache. The necessary sort of ache. She gives up control, letting him take what he wants, give what he wants. It’s what she wants, too.
He never penetrates her. She doesn’t ask him to. He’d do it, if he wanted, which means he doesn’t want. Another part of her dies, but fangs in her neck, her chest, her back, her wrist—they distract from the sharp pain of it.
This can be beautiful too.
She holds his arm when it’s over, her fingers soft against the back of his hand. His large hand. They dwarf hers; he can press his palm to her belly and touch the undersides of her breasts. They ache for it, but she doesn’t ask.
“I love you, Roderick,” she echoes.
GM: He smiles and does just that, slowly stroking his palm across her belly.
“What would you think about sharing a haven together?”
“Permanently. In the Quarter. A new one.”
Celia: “As Roderick and Jade?”
GM: “I’d say someone else and Jade, but no one except us should know.” He frowns. “And some of our ghouls. How much they should know is another question.”
“Your ability to change my face will come in handy, either way. Roderick can’t be seen spending so much time in the Quarter.”
Celia: “I forgot to tell you something. Earlier. Can I tell you now?”
GM: He pulls her closer, nuzzling his nose against her neck.
“You can tell me anything, Celia.”
Celia: “…anything?” she asks.
GM: “Anything,” he repeats.
Celia: “I was afraid when you followed me earlier. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was talking to the Mafia scum about your sister. He runs the block where she was found. You asked me to find her sire. I thought I could ask him. I’m sorry I forgot.”
GM: “Ah, that’s a good idea, Celia,” he says approvingly. “You should have asked me first, to get my input. But it’s a good idea.”
“Here’s my input now. We change our faces, ambush him, and hurt him until he tells us everything he knows. Then we dispose of him.”
Celia: “He’s important to Lord Savoy.”
GM: “That’s immaterial.”
Celia: “Can I… can I pose a… a question?”
GM: “Of course.”
Celia: “The war is heating up. You said that they’re prepping? Lord Savoy will need all of his people, won’t he? When the fighting starts? Can we take him out after?”
GM: “The war is bigger than Reynaldo Gui. He isn’t the fulcrum upon which Savoy’s success rests.”
Celia: “I was working on a plan to take down Agnello with him. And he offered… he wants to take me to Chicago. To meet his sire. I thought we could… his sire is Capone, allegedly, I thought it would be good insight to the entire organization..?”
GM: “No,” Roderick says shortly.
Celia: “No,” she echoes.
GM: He says nothing further.
But he does hold her.
Celia: She’s quiet for a time.
“Roderick,” she whispers, when she has had her fill of silence.
GM: “Yes?” he murmurs back.
Celia: “The other night… I wanted to talk to you. To tell you things. About me. If… if you love me, even though I’m… stupid… can you love me for the rest of it?”
GM: He nuzzles against her head some more.
“Of course, Celia. I’ll always love you.”
Celia: “…do you still want to get married?” she asks in a small voice.
GM: “Of course I do,” he smiles, running a hand along her belly.
“Who else would I want to spend the rest of my Requiem with?”
“There are going to be some changes in our relationship, but I think you’ll be on board with them.”
GM: “I’m in charge,” he says simply.
“Most couples don’t like to acknowledge this sort of thing. But you know how much I believe in honesty.”
Celia: “What does that… entail?”
GM: “Not much that’s different. I’ll listen to your input and seek it as appropriate. I want you to feel valued and listened to. You’re the most important thing in my Requiem, Celia. That’s why it’s essential we do things right. We’ve had so many conflicts in the past. We made our own Gordian knot.”
“But tonight made me see.”
“When I cut through it, things go much better. For both of us.”
“I expect you to seek my input on everything of significant consequence to you. I will make the final decisions in our relationship. When you misbehave, I will correct the misbehavior, like I did tonight.”
“You will not be corrected arbitrarily. I will always tell you what you did wrong and why you are being corrected. You will tell me afterwards what you did wrong and what lesson you learned.”
“When you are well-behaved, you will not be corrected. When you are well-behaved, you will be rewarded. When you are well-behaved, we will both be happy.”
“I will protect you from anything and anyone that tries to hurt you. You will be safe with me. You will be loved with me.”
Celia: “Even… even if I mess up?”
GM: “Even when you mess up,” Roderick echoes.
“Hate the sin. Love the sinner.”
He gives her a squeeze.
“I believe in you, Celia. You’ll learn. I will be patient with you.”
Celia: “What are the sins?”
GM: “Associating with Mafia scum is one of them.”
“But in so many words, anything which I judge to put our well-being or the well-being of our relationship at risk.”
“That’s why it’s so important for you to consult with me before making significant decisions.”
“If you’d done that, tonight wouldn’t have happened.”
“I have a meeting,” she whispers, frantically looking for a clock.
GM: He guides her head back towards his.
“With whom and over what business?”
Celia: “Primogen Poincaré. About a missing person.” She’s sure she missed it by now. “And the Tremere. Occult studies.”
GM: “That first meeting sounds beneficial. What do you want to learn about the occult for?”
Celia: “My dad. There’s a…” he’s going to tell her she’s dumb. “…I wanted to look into demons. You told me they’d be a good source.”
GM: “Ah, yes,” he considers. “That could be productive too. Just know they’re probably going to ask a boon in exchange for significant knowledge.”
Celia: “Is that okay? Can I give them one?”
GM: Roderick thinks. “What do you want to learn about demons for? Suppose your father is being influenced by one, and that his actions weren’t fully his own. That’s the best case scenario. What then?”
Celia: “Defeat it? And… it’s good to know. If they’re out there. What they can do. And… I think I… met one.”
GM: “Okay. You can pledge them a boon. If you can, make it towards Lebeaux, or Bornemann if you can’t.”
Celia: “Roderick? My spa was bugged. I followed the trail and I think I met something… other. I think it’s the demon. I looked into it a little. Can I show you my research later?”
GM: “Absolutely. I’ll help however I can.”
Celia: “Thank you.”
GM: “When are your meetings?”
Celia: She tells him the times.
GM: Roderick lets her look at the clock.
“You have a good amount of time, then. Benefits of leaving Elysium early.”
“Enough time to fit something else in, probably.”
Celia: She doesn’t know how long they’ve been here. How long she was in the trunk. The tub. How long sex took. She’s glad that it wasn’t as long as she thought.
“My ghoul was supposed to tell me about the hunters,” she offers.
GM: “Then you should see him.”
Celia: She nods.
“Is… is my car far?”
GM: “Your car is where you left it. I can give you a lift.”
GM: He turns her around and tilts her chin up in his hand.
“You’re okay, too, with how things are going to be now?”
Celia: “I’ve wanted to tell you everything for a long time.”
GM: “I know you have. We can whenever you’re ready.”
“But I need to hear, first, that you’re okay with these new ground rules.”
Celia: “What if we disagree?”
GM: “My decisions are final, Celia.”
Celia: “But you’ll listen, if I tell you something?”
“And you’ll consider it?”
“And you won’t… I won’t be hurt for asking?”
GM: “Of course. I’ll always listen to you and consider what you have to say. What you say is very important to me.”
“You’ll never be hurt, Celia. You’ll be corrected.”
“But there’s nothing to correct about questions.”
Celia: “…even if they’re stupid?”
GM: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question. All questions seek to correct ignorance. All questions are acolytes at the temple of knowledge.”
Celia: “Oh,” she says.
“Your decisions are final. I’ll tell you before I do anything significant. You’ll correct misbehavior.”
GM: “Good,” he nods.
“I’d like to hear now, in your own words, how this will benefit our relationship and benefit each of us.”
Celia: “You’re smarter than me. You see things I don’t. You have more training from your sire, your grandsire, and school. I’m important to you, so you want what’s best for me, and you’ll keep me safe. We love each other. It shows trust. And commitment. Corrections won’t be arbitrary, and you’ll seek my input because you value me. You’ll guide me down a better path and lift the weight from my shoulders.”
GM: “That’s perfect, Celia,” he smiles, and kisses her head.
“I’m proud of you. Tonight went very well.”
Celia: “You helped me see.”
GM: “Helping you is what I want to do.”
Celia: Celia rests her cheek on his chest.
“I know. I love you for it.”
GM: He hugs her close in his strong arms.
“I love you too, Celia. With all my heart.”
“Things are going to be better now.”
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
Celia: They clean themselves up in the same tub he’d cuffed her in. Conscious of the time, they don’t linger, and soon they’re dressed and out the door. Celia offers to turn into Luna for the trip through the building, and sits on the floor if he needs her to when she switches back. She wouldn’t switch, but a question has been weighing on her mind, and she wants to ask before the night progresses.
“It’s about sex,” she says, growing steadily more flustered by the topic until she finally asks if they’re going to continue to do it like they did tonight. Her cheeks burn for the asking. If he wants to know why, she quietly admits that she “has a hard time focusing in the evenings without it.” She finds a roundabout way to ask if sex with kine is okay, both for its own merit and during feedings. There’s shame in her eyes when she asks. She doesn’t like admitting her shortcomings to him. And if he doesn’t want to do it like that anymore she doesn’t want to ask him to. Their time together should be enjoyable, not a chore.
But she doesn’t want to lie or cheat. She wants this to work. Their relationship is important to her. He is important to her.
GM: Roderick thinks turning into Luna is a good idea.
“We’ll continue to have sex,” he answers. “I’ll use my cock as a reward for when you’ve been especially good.”
He considers her next question for some time, silent as he drives.
“Bring home the next vessel you want to have sex with, so I can see, participate, and evaluate.”
“I’ll make a decision based on how that goes.”
Celia: Home. Where is that anymore?
“What about Alana?” she eventually asks.
GM: “Do that for her too. No sex until then.”
Celia: “She’s waiting for me. Tonight. She’s… I do with her what you’re doing with me. Sex as a reward. No sex as punishment. I’ve been putting her off, but she showed up at my mom’s house today, freaking out…”
GM: “Then that’s a good pretext over which to have no sex with her.”
“She shouldn’t expect rewards after she’s been bad.”
“It’s also a good time to tell her you’re going to potentially reevaluate your relationship based on her performance with me.”
“Don’t tell her you’re on the same system she is, though.”
“You are her domitor and should appear a fully dominant figure in her eyes.”
Celia: “We sleep together sometimes. During the day.”
GM: “We’re going to sleep together now. We can decide on what days we’re going to include Alana, if any.”
“That should be a privilege for her rather than a guarantee.”
Celia: “What about today?”
GM: “She’s been bad, Celia. No privileges today.”
“But if you mean us, yes, we can sleep together.”
GM: “My haven, for now, until we find a new one.”
Celia: She nods, is quiet for a moment, and finally asks about what sort of corrections she should expect. If they’ll all be like tonight. If torpor is something she should learn to expect.
GM: “It depends upon the nature of the infraction,” says Roderick. “Some will require more significant correction than others.”
“But I will always offer you a choice when torpor is on the table.”
“I’m not going to be your father and just beat you without your consent.”
Celia: There’s more she wants to talk to him about. More she wants to know now as opposed to later. She asks if they can have a longer conversation later. She understands the rules, what he expects, and accepts that. But there’s still more she wants to discuss.
GM: He answers of course. He’s happy to answer whatever questions she might have.
He tilts her chin up in his hand to meet his eyes.
“It feels good, doesn’t it, Celia, to have someone in the driver’s seat?”
Celia: “I know you want what’s best for us. I’ll feel better when I tell you everything. So you understand.”
GM: “Telling the truth is for the best, Celia.”
“It comes out either way. We might as well do it on our terms.”
“Truth always comes out.”
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
Celia: He drops her at her car. She tells him she loves him again before she gets out, and if he lets her she kisses him. She says she’ll see him tonight. She says that she’s grateful he helped her cut the knot. She says that she trusts him.
She watches him go in the rear view mirror after she turns the key in her ignition. For a moment she swears that her eyes are blue.
Whoever she is doesn’t think too hard about what that means. She pulls out of her spot and makes the trek to LegalWings to meet with Reggie and Rusty, if he’s there. She texts Dani on the way. She hasn’t heard from her and wants to make sure that she’s safe.
When she arrives at LegalWings she asks Rusty how it’s possible to track a phone, and if you need local access to it or if it’s something you can do with an app or other method. It was a new phone, but the user might have logged into their Sunfire account on it to transfer things from the old phone, and she supposes she answered her own question. She asks if he’d be able to find out who was tracking it and how they were tracking it and offers to bring him the phone. She’s paying, of course.
Then she meets with Reggie. She makes a comment about Randy never coming by, then asks how it went with the hunters.
GM: Is there anything she can to do help out right now? He’s asleep and won’t notice if she leaves.
Celia: Celia lets her know to sit tight. She says she found him. He’s safe. He’s okay. She mentions she wants to talk to her, but in person. Tomorrow, maybe. She does text over the badge numbers for Henry. She tells Dani to stay inside tonight, and to come back to the Quarter during the day.
She doesn’t explicitly say it, but there’s less chance of her being picked up that way. Celia will never forgive herself if something happens to Dani.
GM: Dani says she’ll pass along the badge numbers. She’s happy to come back over. Should they meet up at Flawless?
Celia: Yes, Celia responds.
She texts an approximate time that she’ll be there and tells her to enjoy the evening. They’ll make plans for the museum another day.
GM: Rusty isn’t present at LegalWings, but is available to talk over the phone. She has indeed answered her own question. There are many avenues by which to track phones.
Like all things, time and money indeed make possible to find out who was tracking the phone.
Celia: She’ll make sure he has both.
GM: Reggie, meanwhile, reports the following:
First, the handoff with ’Jade’s’ body was successful.
Unless the hunters later see through the ruse, as they seemed to buy it at the handoff, they now believe Jade Kalani tagged and bagged.
The hunters gave their names as Mr. Brown and Mr. Jones, but Reggie is not sure if those names are real. They said they worked for the federal government, though they were vague about what specific agency. They did, however, say that if the two ‘hunters’ brought them one more incapacitated vampire, they would be eligible to join their organization and receive training at a place called Glynco. Reggie wasn’t sure exactly where that was, but it seemed like the hunters he was pretending to be already knew, so he nodded along.
The hunters were extremely tight-lipped about… well, everything. However, there was one fact Reggie deduced… this offer did not feel unique to ‘Brooke’ and her partner. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown had a very standoffish and dismissive attitude. Like there was ‘more where they came from.’ Reggie concluded the two were not only making this same offer to a large number of hunters, but getting rid of vampires does not actually seem to be their primary objective. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown are sending hunters after comparative small fries. The goal seems to be to test their competence and dedication… and to recruit the most promising such hunters into their own organization.
They left Reggie and Randy with another time and meet spot to deliver their next vampire.
Celia: She asks if it sounded like vampires is all they hunt, or if they’re aware of the rest of the things out there.
GM: Reggie did not ask about other things.
Celia: She wants to know how long they have before the next meeting.
GM: About a week.
Celia: Were they given locations and targets or do they need to find their own?
GM: The latter.
The help from Savoy’s ghoul, Reggie grouses, was not very helpful. Reggie heard a voice in his ear whisper that’d it would be present during the handoff, and then absolutely no one was there except him and Randy.
Celia: Irritation at that news. Now everything she knows, he knows. She won’t get credit for any of it. Worse, she’ll tell Lebeaux this evening and he’ll say he already knows.
She explains that he was probably right there with them. He’s a shadow dancer. He’d have interceded if things went south.
Celia thanks him for a job well done and lets him know she’ll bring him in to consult on their next move within the next few days. She asks if he thinks Brown and Jones would be willing to provide backup if Reggie finds a “bigger score.”
GM: He thought they seemed like assholes.
“So they’d probably do the asshole thing.”
He grunts at the explanation on the shadow dancer.
Assholes are always the order of the day.
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s a short ride back to the Hotel Monteleone after Celia is finished with her business. Her mom said she could stop by anytime, though the hour is rather later than she is accustomed to, and it takes several knocks and texts before the door to Diana’s room swings open. Her mother greets her in a fluffy hotel bathrobe, messy bed hair, and still somewhat flushed-looking cheeks.
“Hel-lo, sweetie!” she exclaims with a slight giggle as she pulls Celia into a hug.
“How’s my lil’ bunny, huh?”
Celia: “Hi, Momma,” Celia greets the woman with a bemused smile. She lets herself be pulled in, using it as an opportunity to see if her eyes are glassy. “Get into the wine, Mom?”
GM: Her mother’s eyes do look glazed. She closes the door behind Celia. They’re in a one-bed room.
“Er, maybe just a bit, baby.”
“I don’t normally do this sort of thing!”
Celia: “No,” Celia muses, following her further into the room. She looks for her sisters—both of them. “How long’s it been since you’ve had a drink, Ma?”
GM: She doesn’t see either.
“Oh, goodness… maybe since that party?” thinks her mom, plopping down on the bed.
“A very long time! I feel so rebellious!”
“C’mere, sweetie, I wanna cuddle with my baby.”
Celia: After the night she’s had, Celia needs it. She leans into her mom, cuddling up against her as if she’s not a bloodsucking monster.
GM: Celia’s mom wraps an arm around her shoulders and leans a head against her daughter’s. The woman’s movements are… less restrained, she supposes.
“Oh, I love you so much, you know that? Just… lots!” she exclaims, giving a little giggle.
“I’m sorry, that isn’t very, ah, what’s the word…?”
“I love you lots either way,” she smiles again, giving Celia a tighter squeeze.
Celia: Grammatically correct? Celia doesn’t rebuke her mother for it. Not like Roderick had. There will be no “corrections” between this lick and her ghoul.
GM: There were, once.
But they walked back from that.
Celia: “I love you lots too, Momma. Thanks for bearing with me tonight while everything went down. I know it’s been a lot lately.”
GM: “It’s okay, sweetie! I want to do things for you!” she exclaims, giving Celia another emphatic squeeze.
“I love doin’ things for you. I just wish I could do more, sometimes.”
Celia: “You do plenty, Mom. You found all that stuff about the training center. And I was able to confirm it tonight. That’s something. You feed me. That’s something too.”
“You love me even though I’m… you know.”
GM: “That’s up to God, baby, between you and God, what that means. My job’s to be your mom. I’ll always be your mom.” Diana gives a sniff that turns into a snort as she shakes her head and touches a hand to her nose. “Oh, sorry! I know you don’t like when I cry!”
Celia: “Mom…” Celia touches a hand to Diana’s cheek. “You’re allowed to cry, Mom. It’s okay.”
GM: Her mom gives another half-sniff she tries to turn into a snort. “I am, but, but I cry a lot! And I know you don’t like it!”
“And Emi thinks I do it too much, sometimes, too, she doesn’t say, but I just really think she does.”
Celia: It reminds her all too much of her conversation with Roderick.
“Feel what you feel, Mom. Let it out. It’s okay to cry. That… that wasn’t me who said that to you.”
“You can’t control your feelings. Just let them out, okay?” Celia pulls her close, running a hand up and down her back.
GM: Her mother holds it in for several moments later, and then the water works start to freely flow.
“Celia, I, I hate it when I cry too, I really do, I hate it how I cry, I hate how weak I am, how much I cry, I know you say I’m not, but I am, ever…”
Celia: “Mom…” Celia doesn’t know where this is coming from. She’d never had that much experience drinking herself before her death, though she supposes she’d seen Emily get weepy a few times. “Mom, it’s okay. We’re working on it, right?”
GM: “Are you?” her mom sniffs, looking at her with wetly imploring eyes. “What… what’s new? What’ve you worked on?”
Celia: Well, she meant her mom is working on it through fencing and learning more about her daughter’s real world, but this works too.
“I…” What has she been working on? Getting people killed. Turning into a doormat for her boyfriend. Stupid, he whispers, and she sees the resentment in his eyes.
“I found someone who could talk to Lucy,” she offers.
GM: Her mother’s breath comes shallower as her drunken eyes slightly widen. She hugs Celia closer.
“Talk about… what, sweetie?”
Celia: No. This was a bad idea. Her mom is already crying.
“We got her a library card. Some books. She’s… she likes the same books as you. And I spoke to someone else tonight who knows more about it, and he’s…” How does she describe Harlequin? His crazy speaks to her crazy.
“It’s all a process, Mom. Baby steps.”
GM: Her mom breathes rapidly and just holds on tight to Celia.
“What. What do you want to do, with… with…”
She doesn’t say the doll’s name.
Celia: “She’s at my place now, Mom. She can’t hurt you. It’s up to you.”
GM: She swallows.
“What’s. What’s up, to me.”
Celia: “What to do with her.”
GM: Diana breathes rapidly and clings to her daughter.
“What… what do you think?”
Celia: “I love you the way you are. I want you to do what’s best for you. If you want to reunite, we can. If you want to stay separate, we can.”
GM: Her mother cries into her shoulder.
“I’m so weak, Celia. I’m so weak. I didn’t help you, I didn’t help your brothers, your sisters, I wasn’t there, I didn’t do, do anything, I was weak, so weak…”
Celia: Celia continues to rub her hand up and down Diana’s back, holding her mother close to her.
“There wasn’t a lot you could do at the time. And you did when it mattered. You stepped up. That’s love. That’s what we needed. What I need.”
GM: Her mom’s voice is small in her ear.
“I, I’d have done more… once…”
Celia: “When she was part of you, you mean?”
GM: Her mom says nothing, then nods once.
Celia: “Mom… is that… hereditary? Did you get it from your dad? Or your mom?”
GM: Her mother looks away, cheeks faintly red.
“Your. Your grandma’s always been… strong. Your grandpa was softer.”
She sniffs again.
“I wish he hadn’t… then I’d have… never…”
“Then you and the others… I wish she’d… I wish she’d died, instead,” Diana says, her features briefly hardening.
Celia: “…what did he do, Momma?”
GM: The look passes like an odd lump in half-formed, still-malleable clay. Her mother sniffs again. “Died, sweetie. He died. Too early for you to even know him.”
“And then everything fell… fell apart.”
Celia: Celia nods gently. “She and you started fighting, right? Dad told me.”
GM: Her mom silently nods.
Celia: “Do you want to tell me more about that?”
GM: Diana looks at the bed.
“I hate her,” she whispers.
Celia: “I know. I’m sorry I tried to force you to talk to her. What happened, Mom? Was it the… place?”
GM: “We… we already didn’t get along, already couldn’t stand the sight of… that was just…”
Celia: “Of… each other?”
GM: Her mother nods.
Celia: “But… why?”
GM: “I wish she could see,” Diana says suddenly, squeezing Celia as her inebriated eyes flash. “I wish. She could see. See what it’s like. Walk a mile in… in my shoes! See what she says then!”
“See what she thinks of me then!”
Celia: Celia’s eyes move from her mother’s face. For a moment her vision blurs. Then she blinks and it’s back, and she touches a hand to her mother’s cheek, curling up on her lap with her knees bent and her head on her shoulder. Like the child she used to be.
GM: “Sweetie?” her mom asks thickly, concern coloring over the look on her face. She hugs Celia close and gives her a squeeze, stroking the back of her daughter’s head with one hand. “What is it?”
Celia: “Daddy used to hurt us. Did Grammi do that too?”
GM: “N… no, sweetie. Not like he did.”
Celia: “But it hurt?”
GM: “She’s such a mean woman,” Diana mutters.
She sniffs and snuggles Celia closer.
Celia: “But why?”
GM: “I don’t know, why is anyone mean?”
Celia: “‘Cause they’re sad.”
GM: “I’m sad, and I’m not mean,” her mom sniffs.
Celia: “‘Cause you’re better.”
GM: Her mom smiles and squeezes her.
“You make me want to be. You and Lucy and Emi and all your brothers and sisters.”
Celia: “I could tell someone beat her up,” she offers. “Joshy said that’s what big sis is for.”
GM: “Sorry, Joshy?” her mom asks.
Celia: “We’re friends.”
GM: “Oh. I don’t know if I… well, I suppose I do… but I don’t think that’s what Jesus, what Jesus would say…”
“Do you and Jesus talk much, these days, sweetie?” her mom asks.
“It’s been so long, since you came to church.”
Celia: There’s not an easy answer to that. She just shrugs.
GM: Her mom squeezes her again.
“You’re His cute lil’ bunny too.”
Celia: Her giggle turns into a laugh. “That’s not what the Sanctified say, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
GM: Her mom smiles back at her.
“Do you think He loves you, still?” she asks, curiously.
Celia: No. She’s a bloodsucking monster from someone’s nightmare.
She doesn’t know her own mind, let alone some possibly imaginary figment of the collective conscious of people who lived thousands of years before her.
GM: “I guess only Him. But I think He does. He loves everyone, baby, everyone. No matter what they’ve done. It’s up to them if they want to love Him back. I think that’s the only reason anyone goes to Hell, if they refuse His love.”
Diana holds her close for a while.
“What do you think Jesus wants me to do?” she asks.
Celia: “In regards to Lucy? Or your mother?”
GM: “…both, sweetie,” she says after a moment.
Celia: “He probably has a better idea what all happened between the two of you. I still don’t, not really. You only give me pieces of it.”
GM: Her mother gives a hmph that turns into a hiccup.
She holds a hand to her mouth.
“Oh. Excuse me.”
Celia: Celia gently pats her back, waiting for the story.
GM: “You’re always asking me about the past, Celia.”
“I just don’t know what you’re looking for.”
“There’s not a lot to say,” her mom answers anyway. “She was always a bad, bad woman. Didn’t approve of ballet. Couldn’t accept it made me happy. Couldn’t accept I didn’t want to break a glass ceiling like her or Prudence. Couldn’t understand all the sweat and blood that went into it.”
“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young.”
“You have to be tough.”
“Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage.”
“They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough.”
“In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park.”
“Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. The competition can get really fierce.”
“And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”
“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”
Her mother gives an angry sigh. “I used to be tough, you know. That’s how I made it!”
“I wouldn’t have made it in that environment, if I wasn’t tough! Not at 15!”
“Fudge, and Logan complains about the ROTC instructors sometimes! He’s gettin’ off light!”
“Your grandmother didn’t respect me. She didn’t respect all my hard work. All my blood and sweat. How tough I had to be.”
Celia: “That’s really it? She just didn’t respect your choice?”
GM: “‘Just’? I’ll tell you ‘just’! She was just awful! One time, she threw out my sewing kit. That I used to modify my ballet shoes. Just threw it out! Because I’d left it outside my room, so she chucked it out, told me to keep better track of my things.”
“Two days before a big show!”
“I had to run through the city, buy a new kit, buy new shoes, all my own money, and waste time on that, on re-fittin’ the shoes again, that I needed to spend practicing!”
“I was off my game, the next day! The show was worse! They gave me so much grief for it! ‘Dragging down the whole corps be ballet!’ I had to fight like hell just to stay on the troupe!”
“Thanks a lot, Momma, thanks a lot for all your love and support!”
Diana gives an angry half-strangled sob and wipes her eyes.
Celia: “I don’t understand. How could she be like that… and you be like this.”
GM: “Because I got it from your grandpa, that’s why. He had so much more love in his heart than she did.”
“He was always there! Every performance, even the kids’ ones! He found time!”
“Busy heart surgeon like him, he found time, and sent me cards and flowers with ‘thank you’s from the other hospital people when he couldn’t!”
“I always knew, when he couldn’t make it, who he was helping, how helpful the rest of the team all said he was being!”
Her mom sniffs again. “Oh, Daddy, I miss you so much. You cared, when she never did!”
“Such a mean, nasty, cruel woman!”
Celia: “Was she like that with your siblings?”
GM: “Oh no, she loved Prudence much more than me.”
“Stan too, though not as much.”
Celia: All parents have favorites, Roderick told her.
GM: “Because they were just more like her, I guess. I got all of Dad’s sweet, Stan got half, Prudence got zero.”
“Though I don’t feel very sweet right now,” her mother hmphs.
“Such a nasty woman.”
Celia: “We don’t have to talk about her, Mom. I didn’t realize… well, I didn’t realize the depth of everything between you. We don’t need to rehash.”
GM: “She sent me to the… DOLLHOUSE!”
Her mother gives a sob and covers her eyes.
Celia: “You’re out now, Momma. You’re out.”
GM: “No I’m not, no I’m not, I’m still there!”
Celia: “With… Lucy?”
GM: Her mother shudders at the doll’s name.
“I never got out, only… only half of me did!”
Celia: “I’ve had her for a long time, Mom. She’s out, too.”
GM: “She’s evil.”
“I don’t know why, I don’t why you’d, you’d ever do that.”
Celia: Money. Connections. Power. Obsession. Madness.
All sorts of reasons. Celia doesn’t voice any of them, though. She just "hmm"s and holds her mom close.
GM: Her mom holds onto her for a while.
“She’s going to… she’s going to hurt you, baby.”
Celia: “The doll?”
GM: Her mom closes her eyes and nods.
Celia: “Why would she hurt me?”
GM: “Because she’s from that place! That awful, awful pla-”
Celia: “She… helped me, before. I hesitated. And she told me to run. She got me to safety.”
Her sire, too, but she doesn’t add him into this.
GM: Her mom cuts off with a befuddled expression.
GM: “She wouldn’t do that.”
“She wouldn’t help you.”
Celia: “But she… did.”
GM: “No. She’s from… why would she do that? Why would she ever do that?”
Celia: “I don’t… I don’t know. I was in trouble and she told me to run. So I did. And I got out. And all the other dolls were coming for me. They were going to turn me into one of them.”
GM: Diana doesn’t look sure of what to say.
Celia: “She’s from what? That place?”
GM: Her mom nods.
“What… happened, sweetie? That got you in trouble?”
“Are you still in trouble?”
Celia: “No. I’m okay. I saw what she did to you and I got angry. I let the Beast out. I came to and she was unconscious on the floor, and Lucy was staring up at me. I was going to help her, but Lucy… said to run.”
“And she said… she told the librarian that if I hadn’t undone what Jade did to you, she’d have left me forever.”
GM: “Oh. That’s what it was. Good. You were… you were a real hero to do that, baby.” Her mom hugs her. “A real hero. All those, those girls, in their… their hells. All of them, you gave… you gave hope…”
Diana sniffles some more and wipes at her eyes.
Celia: She didn’t.
She’d ruined them too.
Like her mother.
GM: “That’s my… my Celia, always… always doing the right thing, even when it’s hard…” her mom sniffs, running a hand up and down her back.
She kisses the side of Celia’s face.
“I’m so proud of you, baby. So, so proud.”
Celia: “…I wasn’t doing the right thing, Mom.”
GM: “She’s… she’s pure evil, Celia. Just. Pure evil. You did right.”
Celia: “I used to do their makeup.”
GM: Her mom looks confused.
Celia: “To make them prettier.”
GM: Diana doesn’t say anything.
Her face just goes very still as she looks at Celia.
Celia: “I didn’t do the right thing.”
GM: “All… all the guards, cooks, at Auschwitz, couldn’t have been bad people,” her mom says slowly.
“They weren’t… the masterminds. They didn’t send people to the gas chambers.”
“They, they might not have even known. Had any choice.”
Celia: “They did.”
GM: “But, but it’s not always that simple. There’s… there’s worse grades, of bad.”
Her mom rubs her back.
“I’m not… I’m not going to say you… didn’t do bad… but you didn’t do as bad as her.”
Celia: “Mom… I don’t know what you think it means to be what I am… but I’ve done… I’ve done awful things. Terrible things. Maybe not like her, but I’ve…” She looks down at her hands. “They’re not clean, Mom.”
GM: Her mother hugs her close.
“You said, baby, you said.”
“After… after what you did to me.”
Celia: “And if Lucy was part of you that was separated… she can’t be evil, Momma. You’re not.”
GM: “You walked back from it,” her mom presses. “What you did to me, as Jade. There is good in you. And maybe there’s bad too, okay, I guess there is, but we’ll… we’ll work through it, baby. We’ll talk sometime, about all the things you’ve done, and… what to do, goin’ forward. When I’m, ah, sober. Totally sober. But I am here for you and I love you and I’ll always love you, okay?” she says, giving Celia another squeeze.
Celia: One good deed can’t make up for everything she’s done, but she doesn’t argue.
“Why did you ask what you think I should do with her if she’s evil?”
GM: “Well, I… I was wondering what Jesus would do. Because she is evil.”
“Or, I… she really did help you?”
Celia: “She did.”
“Listen, Mom, there’s a… there are people who can talk to her. She wants out. A body.”
GM: Her mom takes that in slowly.
“What did you mean, she’d have left forever.”
Celia: “I don’t… really know. The people who can talk to her… they’re not…” Enlightened, he’d said. “…they’re not traditionally sane. But she said that Lucy would have left. And not come back.”
GM: “If you’d… if you’d made me stay…. Gr…”
Her mom doesn’t finish the name.
Celia: Celia just nods.
“I don’t… think she’s evil, Mom.”
“But I can bring her by, if you want..?”
GM: Celia’s mother gives a sharp intake of breath as she clutches her daughter.
“What… do you think will happen…?”
Celia: “She’ll talk to you. Maybe she’ll tell you what she wants. Maybe she’ll… I don’t know, Momma. All we can do is see. And if you want her back, we’ll find a way. If you want her separate, we’ll find a way.”
GM: Her mother’s face looks notably paler.
“Do… you think we should…?”
Celia: “I think we should let you talk to her. After that, we can make another decision.”
GM: Celia’s mom just holds on to her for a while.
Finally, she offers a mute nod.
Celia: “Tomorrow?” Celia asks. “To get it over with?”
GM: “Sweetie, I am going to be fully sober tomorrow.”
It seems like her mom is trying to smile. The expression mostly looks queasy.
Celia: “Do you… want to do it tonight?”
“I can go get her..?”
GM: “Let’s just get it over with,” her mom shudders.
Celia: “Do you want to come with me? I can show you my place.”
GM: “Yes. Yes, I’d love to see your place again, sweetie.” A smile starts to edge across her pale features.
“I’ll… I’ll get dressed, give me a minute.”
Celia: Celia nods. She’ll explain on the way.
GM: Her mom retrieves her clothes and steps inside the bathroom to change. She’s wearing the same dress from the family’s dinner with the Garrisons, but also slips on a pink coat and her new ballet flats from Emily. She takes a breath, then takes Celia’s hand and heads out with her, closing the hotel room door behind her.
“Lucy’s sleeping with Emily, she’ll be okay…”
Celia: “She’ll be okay,” Celia confirms.
GM: “Figured I’d get a separate room, for when you came by,” Celia’s mom says as they step into the elevator.
“You know. For dessert.” She manages a weak chuckle.
Celia: “I appreciate it. Hard to explain otherwise.” She smiles up at her mom, taking her hand. “You’re the best mom, you know that?”
GM: Her mom smiles back and hits the button. “I try to be, sweetie. I was really worried I wasn’t being a very good one, after… well, the truth came out.”
Celia: “It just took some adjusting. And we’re still working on it. Things don’t happen overnight.”
GM: “I guess not,” she says as the elevator descends. “But that’s all I want, to be a good mom to you.”
“And for you to be happy.”
Celia: “You’re a great mom. Always have been.”
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s a short enough drive back to Celia’s haven. Her mom looks out the window curiously.
“Have you moved, sweetie?”
Celia: “No. I have… multiple places. This is one that no one knows about. Except Roderick. And my sire.” And Randy, but he’s dead now. “Celia’s place is too public. Too easy to find. It leaves me too vulnerable during the day.”
GM: “Oh. Vulnerable to what?”
Celia: “Hunters. Ghouls. Enemies. Spies.”
GM: “Oh,” her mom repeats, as if still not sure what to make of that.
She gives Celia’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you for trusting me, sweetie. I won’t let anyone know where it is without asking you first.”
Celia: “Roderick asked me to move in with him,” Celia says on their way up. She unlocks the door and opens it for her mother, following her inside.
GM: “That’s wonderful!” Diana smiles. “Are you going to leave this place, then?”
She still looks around the place, her mother’s eyes happily curious to see what kind of home her daughter has made for herself.
Celia: Celia is happy to show her around. Letting Randy in on the secret had one benefit: he’d been able to meet the furniture people when they’d delivered her new things. The mess her sire had seen after Roderick took out his anger on her apartment is cleaned and gone, with a new couch, new rug, new shelves… everything the raging Brujah had destroyed is replaced, even the dented door of her closet.
“I don’t use the kitchen much,” Celia says when her mother stops as if to open the refrigerator. There’s only enough inside to look like an extremely busy bachelor(ette) lives here.
“I’m not sure. I like having my own place for things that I don’t want shared. And I have a lot of clothes…” Celia trails off, glancing at her closet.
He might expect her to get rid of it.
But he doesn’t have to know, right?
It’s not like she can invite her sire to his place.
GM: “I love it, sweetie!” her mom declares as she walks around, inspecting the decor and furnishings. “The brick walls give it a very cozy feel!”
“If you can afford it, then I’d say why not. Doesn’t hurt, if things are… dangerous.”
“Plus, can’t have too much space for clothes,” she winks.
Celia: “A friend of mine likes to give me jewelry,” Celia confides in a stage whisper, “so I have to have dresses to match. Wanna see?”
She doesn’t wait for an answer, taking her mother’s hand and tugging her towards the closet door. She opens it with a flourish, revealing the treasure trove of things inside: gowns, shoes, bags, accessories, purses, boots, skirts, lingerie, necklaces, earrings, bracelets… there’s a little bit of everything waiting for her mother to see.
“I, ah, ruined your dress earlier. The one you let me borrow. You can have one of mine, if you want..?”
GM: Her mom gives a squeal of delight at the horde of fashionable clothing and accessories. She takes out a number of different items, hanging them over herself or Celia to inspect in the mirror, and nodding her approval or saying how well this would pair with that.
“Oh, it’s okay! I’ve got plenty of dresses like those, got to live up to my last name,” she smiles. “But I would love to borrow some things from here! I just love how we’re the same size!”
“My goodness, I had no idea you owned so many clothes!”
Celia: It’s what she’s good at.
Clothes and makeup.
She hides the hurt in her eyes with a smile and laugh. “Hard to wear things like this at work. Licks are much more, ah, fashion savvy.”
GM: “Well maybe you could buck the trend, show off all those girls in their yoga pants that the boss dresses to impress,” her mom smiles.
Celia: “Don’t think doing a massage in haute couture would go over very well.”
“Maybe if Daddy wins the race for governor I’ll have an excuse to wear them. Parties and the like.” Or when she goes out to LA. Red carpet.
GM: “I guess not, but I admit it still seems a little strange to me, how girls like Piper can wear a face full of glam makeup and pair it with something mundane like yoga pants.”
“But there you go! Plenty reason to let the world see how fabulous Celia Flores can look,” her mom smiles.
“I’ll need to think of something to wear too, for when he wins…” she says thoughtfully.
Celia: “We’ll have to go shopping, I think.”
She sounds as if she can’t wait.
GM: “I guess we will,” her mom beams. “Dresses, shoes, jewelry, you name it! Can’t get caught in the same thing twice!”
Celia: “What would people say? The horror.”
GM: “I hope Lucy grows up to be the same size as us. It’d be so fun if we three could all share clothes.”
Celia: “You should keep that one,” Celia says, nodding toward the necklace her mother’s eye keeps drifting towards. “I don’t know if you could dress it down for work, but maybe a fancy dinner.”
GM: “Hmm,” her mom says thoughtfully as she picks it up, “maybe paired with the ballet flats, and one of my more casual dresses? Maybe somethin’ without too much neckline, so it draws the eye less?”
“This will definitely look nice at a fancy dinner, though. You think it’d be too fancy for another with the Garrisons?”
Celia: “Invitin’ Henry over again?” Celia asks with a wiggle of her brows.
GM: “I think so, that poor man was just so sad,” her mom answers, more seriously.
Celia: “I think you should definitely wear it to dinner. Dani and I were thinking we could all go to the history museum together, or the WWII one..?”
GM: “Oh, that’s a fun idea! Yes, I’ve gone there with Logan before, he just loves all of the World War II stuff.”
Celia: “He doesn’t get out much. Maybe he’ll… smile more.”
“I wish I could do something about Stephen and his dad, but… it’s different, there, he doesn’t want him to know.” Celia sighs.
GM: Her mom looks at her gravely.
“Celia… that man has got to know.”
Celia: “He can’t know.”
“That breaks the rules.”
“It’s Stephen’s choice, Mom.”
GM: “Celia, I know you saw how much pain he was in. All I can say is that you did not see it all. There is no loss, sweetie. Just no loss, that… you cannot even imagine what pain that man is going through. Not unless you are a parent.” Her mother’s voice starts to break a bit.
Celia: “It’s not our choice to make. I can’t take him on as a ghoul, and I wouldn’t… do that to Stephen.”
“What if another vampire took Emily or Logan as a ghoul? That’s what it would be like.”
GM: “Then don’t. Just tell him the truth.”
“Doesn’t matter how.”
“Just so long as he stops believing his baby boy is dead and in the ground.”
Celia: “I can… I can talk to Stephen about it.”
“See what he says.”
GM: “Okay. Okay, that sounds good, sweetie. This involves him too.”
Her mom also looks relieved they’re not going to fight over this issue.
Celia: “Let me find Lucy, though, before the night gets away from us.”
GM: Diana’s face grows very still again.
But she nods.
Celia: Celia takes her mother back into the other room, letting her have a seat on the couch while she locates the doll. Lucy is tucked away with Princess on one corner of Celia’s bed in a new blue dress, the pile of books on the nightstand beside her. She picks her up, Princess too, and brings the pair of them over to her mother to take a seat on the other edge of the couch.
GM: Lucy’s wide, glassy eyes are raptly focused on hers.
Princess looks demure and cute as ever in her ballet shoes.
Celia’s mother clutches her hands to her face and draws up her knees like a little girl. Her face is white and her breath comes fast as her daughter approaches with the dolls. But she does not run from the couch.
Her eyes rest on the second doll with equal parts dread and confusion.
Celia: “This is Princess,” Celia says by way of introduction. “She’s just here for moral support. She has a lot of love to share.” Nothing bad has ever happened to Princess. She’s Daddy’s little girl.
GM: The long-haired, large-eyed doll stares lovingly up at her mother as he holds her teddy bear.
“She’s… a doll…” Diana gets out in a high, trembling voice.
Celia: “She is.”
GM: Lucy’s eyes rest unerringly on her counterpart.
That’s when Celia hears it again, thick and heavy as porcelain:
Celia: Celia sets Princess down on the couch beside her, Lucy next to her. She looks between Lucy and her mother for just a moment, as if wondering how she can possibly explain this.
“Um… Mom, you know how I can… turn into a cat?”
GM: Her mother gives a faltering nod.
Celia: “So… I have another form too. And I don’t want to scare you. But Lucy wants me to join them as my… other self.”
“She’s… like them.”
“Her name is Lotus.”
Celia: “So… don’t be alarmed Mom, okay? I’m still me. I’m going to bring Lotus out now, though. Okay?”
GM: Her mother is still white in the face. Still has her knees and hands raised up.
She doesn’t say anything.
Just gives another faltering nod.
Celia: It’s as much of a blessing she’s going to get. Celia tells her mom not to be afraid, that she’s still Celia…
Until she’s not.
Celia disappears into the porcelain embrace of Lotus, with her hand-stitched dress made of memories and long, curling hair. Her smile remains fixed, like all dolls, but it’s warm despite the cool, smooth ivory that makes up the rest of her. Like her counterpart, Lotus is fully made up.
She sits against the cushion, gazing up at Diana.
GM: Celia’s mother stares at the doll like it’s a smiling tiger. Grateful for the smile, over a snarl.
Lucy stares ahead at the woman too. She does not look at Lotus.
Lotus hears it again. Heavy as porcelain:
Celia: Lotus doesn’t think that the woman knows how to join them like this. But she waits. Maybe Lucy knows something she doesn’t.
GM: The doll’s eyes rest unerringly on Diana’s.
Celia: Well that’s certainly not how Lotus expected this to go. Lucy doesn’t appear to need Lotus, doesn’t seem to want to speak to Lotus. Just Diana.
There’s a girl who promised her mother nothing bad would happen to her. A girl who’d once died for her mother to make sure nothing bad would happen to her. Just talking, she’d said. Promised. Just talking.
This isn’t talking. This is another demand on Diana. Another demand from the woman who has given so much of herself to everyone else.
Lotus fades away.
“Can you hear her, Momma?”
GM: There’s a look of some relief when Celia appears. Like one of three tigers has backed off, even if it’s a smiling one, and her daughter is now here instead.
She gives a faltering nod.
Celia: “She wants to merge. But we’re not ready for that, are we, Momma? Lucy, we’re not ready for that. Momma wants to talk.”
GM: The doll just stares ahead, her glassy eyes wide and unblinking.
“M-merge…?” Diana gets out, her throat dry.
Celia: “Put you back together, I think.”
GM: Her mom doesn’t blink either. Her eyes look equally big.
Celia: As if she knows. She can barely hold herself together, let alone try to keep someone else from falling further apart.
“You still haven’t decided if it’s something you want. That’s what we’re here to figure out, Lucy. If you and Diana can get along.”
GM: “I… wa… want…” her mother swallows, not once looking away from the doll, then gets out, “I want it back… who I… who I used to be…”
MERGE, repeats Lucy.
Princess stares ahead sweetly and hugs her teddy.
Celia: Silently, Celia picks up Lucy and hands her to her mother.
“When I learned how to become a doll, I sat in a room with them. A lot of them. And I had to focus on clearing my mind, being still, being quiet. You’re not becoming a doll, but letting a doll become you. So instead of clearing your mind… open it. Let her in. Connect to her. Here.” Celia touches a hand to her own heart, then gestures toward the same spot on Princess. “And here.” She touches her temple, then Princess’ temple.
“There’s… energy that connects everyone. Find that. And instead of pushing yourself along it—you know how I told you I do that?—you pull her to you.”
GM: Diana looks at the doll like it’s a scorpion preparing to sting her.
But slowly, falteringly, she spreads her arms to take Lucy. In the same position she used to hold the ‘real’ Lucy. The second Lucy.
The skin-to-porcelain contact makes her give an immediate hiss. The effect is like a spray of bleach over flowers. The woman’s skin seems to turn paler, sicklier, even as Lucy stares up at her with wide and glassy eyes. Celia is not sure if she can feed on her mother in this state tonight… it’s likely to take even more out of her.
Diana removes one hand, holding the doll against her stomach, and clutches Celia’s hand in her free one.
“I’ll try, sweetie… to pull her to me… but… help me, please… I need your help…”
The doll’s porcelain-hard little voice only repeats:
Celia: She doesn’t like the way the doll seems to be leeching the very life from her mother. It’s not… normal, is it? If they’re merging, shouldn’t Diana be getting stronger? More healthy now that her whole self is returning to her?
Diana had said multiple times that the doll is evil. But that she wanted her back. What happens if she interrupts? Nothing good, she bets. Nothing good at all.
Celia squeezes her mother’s hand.
“What does it feel like, Momma? Does it hurt?”
GM: Her mother nods rapidly, blinking back tears.
“My, my feet, sweetie… when she… she made me dance…”
Celia knows all about how ‘she’ made her mother dance.
Celia: Celia kneels in front of her mother, gently easing her shoes off her feet. She touches light fingertips to the arches of her feet, offering what comfort she can through touch.
“Physically? Or like you’re back in chains?”
GM: The ballet flats with their extra arch support come off easily. Diana’s toenails are painted pink. At Flawless, like always. Celia’s mother takes a breath and nods at the familiar touch.
“B… both, sweetie…”
Celia: “Do you want to stop?”
GM: Her mother scrunches her eyes but shakes her head.
“I want… my… back…”
The glassy-eyed doll just stares silently upwards.
“Please, sweetie… help me…”
Celia: “You have to bring her into you, Mom. You can hear her, right? In your head? Imagine there’s a line between your mind and hers. A phone line. She’s talking to you, you’re talking to her, but you’re separated by something. An obstacle. Glass, or a brick wall. Close your eyes. See it in your mind, the wall. Then find your way to her. Over, under, around. Put a door in the wall. Or a window. Let her see you. Call her home. She’s part of you, just far away, but she’s still you and you’re her. Like magnets, you’ll always be drawn to each other. Feel for that. Listen for it.”
GM: Diana closes her eyes.
“She’s… it’s a wall, and it’s so thick, it’s so tall, I don’t even know how to get through to her, but I’m dancing… I don’t know how that’ll help, but it feels right… dancing, en pointe, like I did before the accident… you think that’s right, sweetie, you think that’s helping…?”
Celia: “If you used to share dance with her, yes. What else did you used to share together? What else can you do to call her to you?”
GM: “I… I stole your grandmother’s car, once…”
“And ran off away… that’s why she sent me there…”
Celia: That seems like a poor reason to ruin a child.
“Was that the last time you and Lucy were together?”
GM: “When I… when I cleaned and put her away, the day I got out… and had to ask if I could be Diana again…”
Celia: “No, before that. When she was part of you.”
GM: “I danced… the… the way you saw…?”
“But it wasn’t dance, it wasn’t…!”
“I was mad with her… I was… a spitfire, like your granddaddy always said…”
Celia: “Maybe you could dance with Lucy. Remind her what it feels like to be part of you. Remind yourself what it feels like to be free. Whole.”
GM: “I can’t dance like that anymore, sweetie, but… maybe a waltz, or some easier positions…?”
Celia: “Maybe we wait,” Celia suggests gently, “until your leg is better.”
GM: “Okay, sweetie, if you think that’s best…” her mom breathes, nodding in relief.
Lucy’s porcelain gaze bores unerringly ahead.
Celia: Celia reaches for the doll.
GM: Her mother surrenders Lucy to her.
Celia: “Sorry, Luce. She isn’t ready.”
GM: The porcelain figure’s glassy eyes stare endlessly into hers.
Celia: “And what then?” Celia demands. “I put you in her and what then? You steal a car? Run away? Leave your family? Leave _me?”_
Call her stupid, like Roderick had, for trusting a doll?
GM: Lucy’s still expression does not change.
“Ah, maybe we better get me back to my hotel, sweetie,” ventures Diana, rubbing her head.
Celia: “I’ll take you to talk to him tomorrow,” Celia says to Lucy. “He’ll be at the party. Then we’ll get her leg fixed, and you can merge. You’ll be whole again. Both of you.”
“That, ah, that sounds better,” nods her mom. “I don’t feel too good, anyways… you mind if we pass, tonight, on… dessert?”
Celia: Celia strokes a hand down Lucy’s hair, continuing to address the doll.
“Because I don’t know how, Lucy, and I don’t want to hurt you. What if I do it wrong? What if I break you? What if I break her? I’m not willing to take that chance with you. Trust me, okay? He’ll have a better method that doesn’t involve going back to… to her.”
“I’ll take good care of you, Lucy. We’ll get you sorted.”
Celia kisses the doll’s cheek before setting her down next to Princess.
“Come on, Mom, let’s get you back to your room.”
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