“I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: Celia hits the pillows. Then she wakes up. It’s eight hours later than it was a second ago.
She feels great.
Celia: She wakes, for one of the few times in her Requiem, feeling refreshed. The sun may have warned her that the process of transformation and breaking through her own bullshit will be difficult and painful, but waking this evening is a reminder that once she is through the pain she can find peace on the other side.
She takes that for the blessing that it is and rises, throwing back her covers to greet the evening with a whole, healthy body and smile.
GM: Her skin is hale and pristine once more.
There’s some texts on her Sunbook’s WhatsApp window.
From Mel, So glad to hear!
From Dani, Hey you wanna get together some other time? Sunday night?
From her mom, Looking forward to seeing you tonight! :)
From Emily, Looking forward to the worst dinner ever?
There’s also some Facemash pictures Celia is tagged in. They’re of her family enjoying brunch at the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Lucy is chowing down a Three Little Pigs Omelet. (That’s what Diana says it’s called—“Lucy saw the name and couldn’t resist!”) Robby at least isn’t in the pictures. He’s not the biggest church fan.
Alana’s also sent, coming by soon with dinner! love you! xoxoxoxo
There’s no response from Gui. She supposes she’s always been an early riser.
There’s nothing from Roderick either.
Maybe that’s because she’s an early riser too.
She’d never gotten back to him though. Had been debating what to do there. If she should just fake her own death, and if it’s worth giving up all of the privileges of Jade just to escape one person.
Maybe she could just flee the city. Take Gui with her, if she really wants. Go back to Chicago with him.
The thought isn’t as appealing as she thought it would be.
She takes a moment to send Roderick a text now. It’s a brief message: Safe. Explain tonight. Dinner?
She’d imagined it going differently tonight. Using these precious moments to herself to get ready, showing up at his door with everything she’d need for him, the blood and gift and her dress and ideas and plans and, and, and—
Why does it hurt so much?
She texts Dani back that there was an emergency and she will tell her about it soon. She’s sorry she missed their night together.
Another to Emily with an emoji of rolling eyes and a thumbs up.
And a heart to her mom.
She assumes that Alana coming by means Reggie got her message, but he didn’t text back at all. She tries not to worry about it. In the meantime, Celia does her face—flesh and makeup both—and rinses off in the shower before grabbing her clothes for the evening.
GM: There’s a knock at her door soon.
Celia: Celia finishes her look with a spritz of setting spray and moves to answer the door.
GM: It’s Alana. She’s likewise dolled up in a face full of glam, revealing club attire, and strappy high heels. She’s leaning against a 20something and cute enough black man who’s likewise dressed in club clothes.
“Hello, mistress,” she beams. “I was just telling Brayson here all about how you own me.”
The man smirks faintly and looks Celia over.
He looks a little unsteady on his feet himself. Actually, a little pale, too. Has someone else fed on him recently? The kine can’t tell, or they make excuses, but Celia’s own kind can and don’t. This one might only be up for a shallow feeding.
There’s always “dessert” with her mom, at least.
There’s another message from the woman on her WhatsApp window, too.
Can you come by before dinner, sweetie? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk with you about!
That’s 8 PM, just as a reminder!
It was 7:36 when she woke up.
Not much time for a fuck between the drive and getting herself ready.
But he’s right there.
They’re both right there.
And it’s not like she’s going to get laid at her mom’s. Or at Midnight Mass.
When even is she going to get laid tonight?
Celia: Sex can look like a whole bunch of different things, though. For a breather, it’s P in V intercourse. For a lick, it’s the simple swapping of blood. She doesn’t plan to give any to this young boy, and there’s little enough she can safely take from him.
“Brayson,” she purrs, “would you like to fuck my pet?”
She pulls the pair of them inside, giggling as she leads the way to the bed she’d just evacuated. She tells them how she wants it, with Alana on her hands and knees and Brayson filling her from behind. Once they get going she slides in behind the pair, running her hand down Brayson’s body. Cute enough, she thinks, kissing and licking his neck before she bites.
GM: “I’d like to fuck you both,” says Brayson, but he’s happy enough to start with Alana. He’s even more happy when Celia’s canines pierce his neck and the ecstasy of her kiss overcomes him. His blood is sweet with his lust, a taste Celia well knows, but there’s a strongly sour undercurrent. Actually, the sweetness just feels like a mask. She can taste the man’s emptiness. His depression. And here he still is, having sex with two partners at once, or at least thinking he is.
His blood actually doesn’t taste that unfamiliar.
Brayson pumps vigorously into the Toreador’s ghoul but blows his load soon enough. He lies groggily half-asleep in Celia’s bed. Alana tries to pull her domitor after them, crooning how much she wants to “get to the good part, now.”
The time reads 7:55. Five minute drive to be exactly on time for dinner.
“I’ll make your toes curl, mistress…” she purrs, running her hands along Celia’s arm, massaging her shoulders, and planting wantful kisses along her neck.
“We’ll do it any way you like it… I want to show you how much you mean to me… I want to make you feel good, the way you make me feel good…”
“You’re so beautiful… there’s nothing, no one, who compares… I’m so lucky to have you in my life…”
Celia: Celia wants it, too.
But she wants to enjoy it. She wants to take her time and not be rushed. She wants to use the rest of the toys she’d purchased for Alana, to give herself a cock and fuck her, to tease and lick her way down Alana’s body and spread her open in front of her so that she can taste the sweet love and devotion she has for her mistress.
She murmurs that to Alana as she kisses her neck, that she has a few new things she wants to try on her, that she has a surprise for her later and doesn’t want to spoil her appetite now with something quick and less satisfying.
GM: “Okay, Mistress…” Alana murmurs, seemingly placated. “We’ll do it tonight. Without any distractions. Without him. Just us.”
“Just us,” she repeats, planting a tender kiss on Celia’s lips.
Celia: “You don’t want me to share you with my friend? I think you’d enjoy the attention from the pair of us.” Celia gives her a final kiss. “Think about it.”
Then she’s gone, slipping out the door and on her way.
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: Celia drives to her mom’s house. There’s two unfamiliar cars in the driveway, along with the familiar pink Beetle and Emily’s car.
Who else is here?
Is it Robby?
Maxen? (Obviously, but who is the second? Did he bring someone?)
She’ll find out in a moment. She steps inside.
GM: The door is closed, but Celia has the key. She arrives inside to find Maxen sitting next to Diana and Emily on the living room couch. Emily does not look particularly friendly. Diana looks very friendly and is smiling and holding hands with her ex.
There’s also a second man who Celia doesn’t recognize. He looks around 30. He’s white, black-haired, clean-shaven, and has high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and proud ‘I know best’ features. He’s dressed in a dark red button-up shirt, black slacks, and matching oxfords.
Celia: She doesn’t need to think too hard on who that is. All the same, she takes half a second to detect the predator inside of him.
GM: He is like her.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Maxen is dressed similarly to the newcomer, tan slacks and a light blue button-up. Diana looks like she’s put a lot of effort into her appearance, to the esthetician’s trained eye: to a man’s, it’s an “I just threw this on” look, like Celia did for her with Henry, but Diana has a redder lipstick, some spritzes of her favorite rose perfume, and nicer jewelry. A floral dress and her favorite pink heels complete the look. It’s casual enough for dinner, but definitely on the dressier side.
Emily just has on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and socks. No makeup, either.
“Oh! Celia!” exclaims her mom, smiling widely and rising first to hug her. “I’m so glad you’re here, sweetie!”
“I sent you some texts, but I don’t know if they got through.”
“Why wouldn’t they have?” asks the other vampire, who then smiles. “But the important thing is that she’s here now.”
Maxen smiles too and rises from his seat, but seemingly waits for Celia to finish greeting her mother.
Celia: Celia smiles at her father and Emily, then hugs her mother fiercely.
“You look beautiful, Momma. I love that color on you. I didn’t get your texts, actually. I lost my phone and had to use the app on my laptop. The find my phone thing didn’t make it magically appear, unfortunately, so I didn’t get anything relatively recent. Hope you didn’t ask me to bring anything but my darling self.” She winks at Emily.
Celia pulls back from her mother to smile at the lick, eyes crinkling in delight.
“Hey, you.” In the same sort of way she’d say “hey baby,” the familiar inflection on the “you” that suggests he isn’t a stranger. Roderick, right? Who else could it possibly be?
GM: “Thank you, sweetie. You look Flawless as ever too,” her mom beams. She never gets tired of saying that. “But I’m so sorry to hear about your phone! When did it go missing?”
“We can order you a new one if you like,” says Maxen, hugging his daughter next as Diana stands aside. “Our treat, if you haven’t done that yet.”
Celia: “Earlier today,” Celia tells her mom. It’s vague enough but also true. “I’m not actually sure when or where, unfortunately. Tried calling it and nothing.” She shrugs, then allows her father to bring her into a hug.
“Hi, Dad. I didn’t yet. I was hoping it would turn up in my car on the way over, but no dice.”
She doesn’t miss the way he says “our,” though. What did she miss?
Once Maxen lets her go she gives Emily a private look, brows lifted.
GM: “It’d be ‘your treat’, technically, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Celia already ordered one,” says Emily, getting up to hug her sister next.
Celia: “Hey cutie,” Celia says to Emily, kissing her cheek.
All that’s left is the lick.
Roderick, right? It has to be. Even if he hadn’t seen Dicentra he’d obviously seen a night doctor. Dr. E., maybe; she knows they’re big in Mid-City, having seen their tag often enough.
She wonders how he’s going to make her pay for this.
Celia slips away from Emily, turning to face the lick as she takes a tiny step forward. There’s a hesitant, questioning look in her eye, as if asking for permission to approach, asking for some sign that he’s who she thinks and not some random because nobody had mentioned him yet and she doesn’t know what he’d already said to them.
Was this why her mom wanted her early? Or was it something with her dad?
She searches for the answer in his face and body. It’s not the outfit she’d picked out. What if she’s wrong?
GM: “Hey cutie,” replies Emily before breaking off the hug. She gives Celia a ‘hey are you going to shoot down his stupid offer or what’ look.
The newcomer smiles and rises to hug her.
“And hello to you too, Celia.”
Maybe he is some random.
Who knows what he’s already said?
“You two look adorable together,” beams her mom.
“Good choice,” echoes her dad,who then chuckles.
“Michael asked for my permission to date you. I told him that was up to you, but I appreciated the good manners.”
“I thought it had troubling implications when your dad used to beat you,” says Emily.
Celia: Why would she shoot down a free phone? Not that she needs the money, but… well, fuck it, right? Might as well roll with the punches. Since that’s what she suffered at his hands as a child. Abuse.
The lick’s reaction, tame as it is, doesn’t give her much confidence in this whole thing. She has to assume it’s her lover, but the lack of affection here…
It shouldn’t hurt. She tries to loosen her body when he comes in for a hug, to put her former love for him into the arms that she puts around him, the way she rests her cheek against his chest. She’d thought once that he was the perfect height for her. And he is. She fits snugly against him.
“Hi,” she breathes against him, looking up with the same question in her eyes. Something. Please. Anything, she needs anything from him.
She doesn’t yet pull away from him when Maxen speaks, but Emily’s comment makes something flicker in her eyes. Shame or guilt or something like pain, and Roderick(?) can feel her stiffen in his arms.
“Well, if he starts that up, Emmy, I’ve heard you’re good with a blade.” She turns to smile at her sister.
GM: “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” ‘Michael’ preempts when Diana starts to look fretsy. Maxen looks suitably contrite. Michael smiles down at Celia.
“Hi again. How are things with our mutual friend?”
Celia: She doesn’t miss the implication.
The gall. In front of her family! Emily no doubt caught it.
“It’ll be a night to remember,” she says, because there isn’t another answer she can give him right now. She disengages, stepping away from him to focus on her mom.
“Will you come with me to say goodnight to Goose, Mom?”
GM: Michael lets her go without further word.
Emily’s eyes follow the pair.
“Oh, we’ve already put her to bed, sweetie, I’m sorry,” says Diana. “We could check if she’s actually fallen asleep, if you like? Sometimes she stays up reading.”
Celia: Celia nods, happy for any excuse to speak to her mother alone for a moment.
GM: “He doesn’t go,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.
Celia’s dad simply nods. “We’re not there yet.”
“And we’re not ever going to be,” says Emily.
“Emi, please,” says Diana. She lays a hand on Celia as the pair see themselves out.
Celia hears, it though, before they even round the corner.
An eavesdropping Goose is up past her bedtime.
If the sound of small feet trying to quietly sneak away is anything to go by.
Celia: Celia doesn’t rat her out, not verbally. But once she’s out of sight of the people in the living room she sneaks up on the child with all the speed of her clan and scoops her into her arms, whispering about little spies in the corridors.
GM: A nightgown-clad Lucy all but jumps out of her skin and gives a sharp inhalation of breath as she clamps her hands over her mouth. Celia’s caught her red-handed.
“Don’t tell Mommy…!” she whispers.
Celia: “Never,” Celia assures her.
GM: Diana rounds the corner a second later and sees Lucy in Celia’s arms.
She doesn’t frown.
GM: Her eyes widen for a moment, then she holds a finger to her lips.
Celia: Celia winks at her and carries her prize down the hall, back into her bedroom.
She waves for Diana to come along.
“Company caught your eye, Goose?”
GM: It’s a short walk for the trio Lucy’s bedroom. Or technically, the pair, with Lucy not actually walking. Diana waits to say anything until they’re inside and close the door. The walls are deep blue and decorated with Butterfly stencils. Glow-in-the-dark stars glow down from the ceiling. The bed is heaped with pillows, stuffed animals, and lots of blankets, including a sun and moon patterned quilt Diana made. More stuffed animals, dolls, and other children’s toys sit around the room, along with a desk for schoolwork. That’s expected to see more use in the future.
A bunny-themed nightlight sits in the corner.
Because monsters in the dark are real.
Someone should’ve told Celia that when she was Lucy’s age.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Celia: She doesn’t imagine that a nightlight would have stopped him any more than the blankets over the head did.
GM: Or her.
Or the one in the living room.
Lucy just gives a timid look.
“We’re not mad, Goose, it’s okay,” says Diana. She smiles as she strokes the child’s back.
Celia: “Not at all, baby. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”
And look how that had turned out for her.
Maybe it’s a bad comparison.
GM: It’s a terrible comparison.
“Mommy Emi was mad…” says Lucy quietly.
Celia: “Not at you, sweetie.”
“She’s not super happy with the company right now.”
Celia glances at her mom.
“I think she’s jealous that Momma was holding someone else’s hand.”
Celia lifts her brows at Diana. What had that been about?
GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. She looks like she’d been about to ask why.
Celia’s mom just gives a hapless roll of her shoulders.
Celia: “Let’s get you tucked in, little Luce, so the dinner Momma made for all those boring adults doesn’t get cold.”
GM: “Why can’t I see Grandpa?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “Grandpa is… he’s not always the nicest man, Lucy. When I was little he used to make Momma and I pretty sad. Right now we’re trying to fix that and see how things go so he doesn’t make you sad, too.”
Celia pulls back the blankets and sets Lucy down.
“But,” she continues, “if he wants to be nice forever then you will get to see him.”
GM: “That’s right!” smiles Diana, still whispering as she runs a hand along the child’s hair. “We just wanna be sure he’s gonna be nice, and never make you sad, Luce.”
Celia: “And never make Momma or I sad, either. Happy is better.” Celia tucks Lucy in, smiling warmly down at her.
“Maybe if things go well we can all go for ice cream after dinner one night.”
“Get some sleep, Lady Goose. Mommy will tell you all about this tomorrow, I bet.”
Celia leans over to kiss her cheek.
“I love you, Lucy.” She reaches for Diana’s hand.
GM: “Ice cream’s nice,” smiles Lucy. “And you will, Mommy?”
“I will, Lady Goose,” nods Diana, squeezing Celia’s hand, and then Lucy’s too. “Promise.”
“Do I need to say my prayers again?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “It doesn’t hurt,” Celia says with a small smile for Lucy. “I’m sure He enjoys hearing from you more than once a day, baby.”
GM: “Can’t hurt,” Diana echoes. She takes Lucy’s hands, guides them into position, and bows her head with her daughter’s.
Celia: Celia presses her palms together and mimics the movement.
GM: “Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light.
Amen,” they both recite.
Jade remembers reciting it with Butterfly.
“I love you, Lucy,” Diana murmurs, tucking the girl in and kissing her head.
“Love you too, Mommy, Mommy,” Lucy says in apparent sequence to them both.
Celia: “Love you, baby. Sleep tight.”
Celia gives a tiny wave with her fingers and leads the way out of the room. Once the door is closed behind her she turns to look at her mom.
“What did you need to talk about?” she asks in a whisper.
GM: Diana turns on the nightlight, gives Lucy her favorite stuffed unicorn, and turns off the main light. She likewise gives a little wave and closes the door.
“Oh, it’s… nothin’ important, sweetie, not now,” Celia’s mom murmurs, looking away.
“I’m glad we spotted Luce.”
Celia: “Mom. It is important, but we only have so long before they come looking.”
GM: Diana shakes her head. “No, it… it really isn’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.”
Celia: “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here early. There was an incident last night I’ll tell you about later.” Celia hugs her mom. “We’ll share later then, okay?”
“What did… Michael say to you?”
GM: Her mom hugs her back. “Okay, sweetie! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to talk to you after dinner.”
She lowers her voice. “He, ah, told me he’s Stephen.”
Celia: “Nothing else?”
GM: “We talked about some other things, but that was the biggest thing,” her mom nods.
Celia: “How long has he been here?”
GM: “He showed up maybe fifteen minutes before your father? And he was about ten minutes early.” Her mom’s smile widens. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him over like this, that you two get to be together again!”
Celia: It’s not the time to dim the joy on her mother’s face. She just smiles back.
GM: “That is some disguise he has on, too.”
“I asked him how he did it, he just said not to worry about it.”
Celia: No doubt.
Celia resolves not to ask if he wants to play coy. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction.
“Guess we should get back out there before Emily stabs him again.”
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: The two head back to the living room. Maxen and Michael are chatting. Emily doesn’t look as if she’s having a particularly fun time.
“Well then, y’all ready to eat?” smiles Diana.
Celia: “I know I am.” Celia touches a hand to her stomach, as if it isn’t an organ she’d ripped out of a dead girl.
“Table set, or can I make myself useful?”
GM: “Ready and eager,” smiles Maxen. “I’ve missed your cooking, Diana.”
“I’ve missed cooking for you,” Diana smiles back.
“Table’s long set. We won’t hear of you havin’ to do any work here!” declares Celia’s mom.
Emily follows behind the others as they set off towards the dining room.
“He’s missed beating her black and blue, too,” she mutters.
Celia: Celia falls into step beside Emily.
“No more,” she murmurs. “No more women from this household will be beaten or abused. Never again.”
She is decidedly not looking at “Michael.”
But maybe she says it loudly enough for someone with above average senses to hear.
GM: If he does, he gives no sign.
“Tell me again why we’re even having this dinner?” Emily mutters.
Celia: So much has happened this week that Celia barely remembers anymore.
“So you could call him on his bullshit in front of Mom.”
It’s not Maxen that she regrets inviting to dinner, though. It’s the man wearing someone else’s face.
GM: “I hope that works.”
She lowers her voice even more.
“I think this was a mistake, Celia. I don’t think we should’ve invited him further into our lives like this.”
Celia: She’s starting to feel the same. There are a million and one things she wants to talk to Emily about right now, another million things she wants to say to Michael, but the walk to the dinner table is only so long.
How can she tell Emily that she thinks she fucked up? That not only was inviting Maxen into this home a mistake, but so is the “boyfriend” who has begun to abuse and belittle her. She’d been spot on earlier with her comment and now Celia doesn’t even know how to get out of it with anything resembling grace, and maybe she should have just given Camilla a doppelganger.
Celia reaches for Emily’s hand and gives a tiny nod. It’s there on her face: the realization that she had fucked up.
She doesn’t know if Bornemann had lied to her with the information about demons. She doesn’t know what longer game Maxen might be playing, and Camilla’s words—knowing something about her family—ring in her mind. Maybe he’s still possessed. She remembers her mother’s vision, how he takes Lucy away.
Celia steps past the dining room table and into the kitchen, moving to the pantry to get a container of salt. Her mother does enough cooking that she keeps plenty of them on hand for all her baking and flavoring needs. At a dollar per canister, why not? She tucks it into the folds of her dress and murmurs something about needing to use the restroom, then takes off down the hall to pour a line of salt in front of the door to Lucy’s room. It takes seconds. She flushes the toilet on her way back down the hall to give her story some plausibility and takes a moment to rinse and dry her hands. She tucks the salt beneath the sink.
Then she’s back, taking her seat with a smile as if nothing happened.
GM: Everyone sits down around the table as Diana heads into the kitchen after Celia to retrieve the food, but then Maxen gets up and volunteers to help. So do Michael, and then Emily, seemingly purely to dilute the impact of Maxen’s help.
Lucy’s door is closed when Celia returns to pour the salt, but the room to door to her mother’s bedroom is ajar.
The ‘other’ Lucy flies on the floor, glassy eyes silently staring towards Celia.
Celia: Celia stops to stare.
“How did you get here,” she whispers, but she doesn’t have time to find out.
“Diana isn’t ready,” Celia says to the doll. She steps inside the room to pick it up, setting it on the bed against the pillows. “Soon, okay?”
The porcelain Lucy gets a kiss on the brow before Celia turns to rejoin her family.
GM: The porcelain is cold under Celia’s lips.
The doll’s unblinking gaze bores relentlessly after her as she leaves.
Celia observes that Dani’s things are gone. The bedroom looks like it’s fully Diana’s again.
Celia: There aren’t enough hours in her night. Right now it feels like one thing after another and her lifelines are getting smaller and smaller.
Is this what her mom had wanted to talk about? Had Roderick moved her? Had someone else?
She hates not knowing. She hates being without her phone, being unable to send a text to check on Dani. They’d spoken earlier, of a sort. That means she’s okay, right?
All the same, Celia sets that anxiety aside to rejoin her family.
She doesn’t even want to ask in front of the guests. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that Roderick will blame her for losing Dani.
But she does, carrying the last of the dishes from the kitchen to the table next to her mother and asking in a quiet voice if Dani had found somewhere else to stay.
GM: Celia finds, to her chagrin, that the dinner’s other four attendees have carried everything out by the time she gets back, and are seated waiting for her.
Dinner is juicy-looking top loin steak, with a side dish of roasted vegetables: corn, mushrooms, yukon potato, asparagus, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes.
There’s also a fruit salad of mango, papaya, and kiwi with lime juice and mint.
Maxen and Michael have larger rectangular wooden plates to accommodate a larger portion of unsliced steak, and also have carving knives for their meat. Celia’s, Emily’s, and Diana’s plates are smaller, round, and ceramic. The smaller portions of steak are already pre-cut.
Celia: It looks delicious. In another life she would have enjoyed it, she’s sure.
The differences in serving size and method makes her lift a brow. Michael will find it as bland and tasteless as she does, she’s sure. Why waste the larger portion like that?
“Looks like somebody doesn’t trust us with a blade,” Celia stage-whispers to Emily.
GM: “Oh, it’s not that, sweetie,” Diana says embarrassedly. “It’s just that I already pre-cut some of the steak and I figured you girls wouldn’t want as much as the men. And it’s just nicer presentation, I thought, when you have that much steak, to leave some of it un-cut. And to let the big strong men cut apart theirs from a bigger haunch.” She smiles at the two.
“Real manly for the guys to cut apart a motionless piece of dead cattle,” Emily says dryly. “I guess those of us with vaginas aren’t up to that task.”
“It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with ‘manliness’,” says Michael. “Diana thought it was better presentation not to pre-slice all of the larger steak servings. And since men consume more calories on average than women, she gave us larger servings. Which makes sense considering the company. Maxen and I are larger than you and lead physically active lives.”
“Well I’m bigger than Mom and Celia, should I have gotten more steak?” says Emily.
Celia: “Yep,” Celia says, dumping a few pieces onto her plate. “There you go. Grow up big and strong like Mikey.”
“You know who would get the biggest piece? Robby.”
“Or maybe the Goose. I heard she plans to be seven feet tall. Gotta start ’em young.”
“Whole cow for Lucy, Mom.”
GM: “Personally I’m hopin’ she grows up the same size as you and me. That way we can all share clothes,” smiles Celia’s mom.
“This looks sublime, Diana,” smiles Maxen. “It smells sublime, too. Lucy and Emily are very lucky to eat this well every day.”
“Oh I’m so glad you think so, Maxen,” beams his ex-wife. “Would you like to lead us in prayer?”
Celia: Celia smiles at the thought of sharing clothes with Lucy and her mother, then looks to Maxen at the question.
GM: “How about I lead us in prayer, if my vagina doesn’t disqualify me?” says Emily.
Diana starts to say something, but Maxen merely inclines his head.
“We’re all equally small before Him. I’d be happy if you wanted to, Emily.”
“Right.” Emily clasps her hands together. “Good God, good grub, let’s eat. Amen.”
Celia: “Succinct,” Celia says dryly.
GM: “Amen,” says Diana, hands pressed as she bows her head lower.
“Amen,” repeats Maxen, doing the same.
“Amen,” says Michael with an amused look.
“It’s the thought that counts,” says Emily as she starts on one of Celia’s generously volunteered steak pieces. “And He sees all our thoughts, so.”
Celia: “Mm. The ultimate voyeur.” Celia spears a piece of steak with the tines of her fork. “Amen,” she tacks on belatedly. She lifts it to her mouth to bite, chew, swallow. It tastes as bland and awful as every other bite of food she’s ever tasted, like ash and sludge and what she imagines kissing a Nosferatu must taste like.
At least it’s over soon, sliding down her throat into her stolen stomach.
GM: Michael looks like he’s enjoying his about as much as Celia, but he smiles and compliments Celia’s mother. Emily doesn’t look like she’s particularly paying attention to the food’s taste, and Diana mostly looks like she’s watching her ex-husband. She’s seated him at the head of the table and herself at his right. Maxen enthusiastically compliments her cooking and she glows at the praise.
“I had a hunch steak would go over well,” she says mock-slyly.
Celia: Maybe it reminds Michael of the night Celia had invited a boy named Stephen to dinner to meet her father, and the way he had belittled her in front of her newly christened boyfriend. Or maybe it reminds Maxen of the time he’d made her stand in front of the stove for hours until she’d cooked the perfect steak. How he’d forced her to eat it, then make another one.
She’s quiet as her parents talk, looking down at her plate for a brief moment, then up at her… what, boyfriend? Abuser? She doesn’t even know anymore. There’s grief behind her eyes, wordless pain at the memories, at what should have been but isn’t. She wants nothing more than to take his hand and know that they’re in this together, that the boy she once loved is still inside, even if he’s hidden behind walls of anger and distrust right now.
Beneath the table, she reaches for his hand.
GM: Michael doesn’t seem to notice Celia’s action when Maxen remarks, “Michael was telling me about himself before you got here, Celia. You sound like you’ve picked a very successful man.” He smiles at his daughter.
Celia: Her fingertips brush across his knee instead. She lets the touch linger for a moment. Just in case.
“Yes,” she says with a tiny nod at Maxen, “but, I mean, there’s more to him than just that. Big heart.” She turns her eyes to Michael, offering a small smile.
GM: “Celia’s too kind,” smiles Michael.
“The heart counts for more than the success, I think,” says Maxen.
“I’d say they count equally,” says Michael. “Both are necessary to improve a family’s quality of life.”
Celia: Too kind. Too kind for saying he has a big heart.
It’s like a knife through her own, twisting, rending, tearing.
Because it isn’t true anymore. Because he doesn’t love her. Because he only wants to use her. Because he’s a Maxen waiting to happen, has every intention of hurting her until she breaks like Diana had, and he’s too useful to Savoy for her to do anything but take it.
Her eyes move to her plate. Mechanically, she spears another piece of steak with her fork. She bites. Chews. Swallows. It tastes like the ash she deserves, like broken promises and shattered hearts and ugly lies.
“If that’s the case, Dad, then why did you only focus on success when we were kids?”
Hollow heart, hollow voice, hollow eyes.
“Why did you think that your success made everything you did to me, to Mom, to the others okay?”
She hadn’t intended to bring it up. She’d thought maybe Emily would. That she’d play peacekeeper and avoid muddling the water so that she wouldn’t have to lie to her sire if he ever asked what happened.
But now she turns her gaze to her father, watching his face. She lets him see the agony on hers. She lets him see what the years of living with him had done, how her psyche had fractured, how her heart had hardened, how his own neighbor and master had used and abused her when she was still half a child. How she let her own boyfriend twist her words to humiliate and belittle her, how she turned into a weak woman who let a man put her on her knees because that’s what she experienced growing up.
“What if I told you that I grew up into someone who let her boyfriend or husband abuse her? What if I said Michael hits me? He’s successful, does that make it okay?”
GM: “I did a lot of wrong things when you and your siblings were kids, Celia,” her father says quietly.
He looks into her face. Into all of her pain. All of her fear. All of the hardness.
He lays his hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t think I have the moral authority to tell you what is and isn’t okay. But since you’ve asked me, I’d say no. No, it wouldn’t be okay if Michael hit you, no matter how successful he is. I’d say that would absolutely have to stop, for you to maintain any kind of relationship with him.”
“Oh, sweetie…” Diana murmurs. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter as she gets up from her seat to hug her daughter.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay… that’s all in the past… the future is better, the future is brighter…”
Emily watches silently.
“We all learn our behaviors from our parents,” says Michael, setting down his fork.
He gets up too, laying his own hand on Celia.
“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is the clinical term for it. I certainly hope Celia wouldn’t be okay receiving abuse like the kind her father committed against her mother.”
“But that’s a behavior learned from only one of her parents. And as bad as picking that up could seem… it could have been even worse. Celia could have become an abuser, too, like her father. Women can abuse men too, in more subtle ways. And combining that abuse with the behaviors Celia learned from her mother… she could have turned into an abuser as terrible as her father was—but one who saw herself as the victim. I can’t think of a more dangerous combination in any relationship. I think that would have driven her to a very sad and lonely life.”
He squeezes Celia’s shoulder and smiles down at her.
“I’m not going to say I thank God every night in my prayers that that didn’t happen. But I certainly have in more than one prayer. Celia could have turned into a black hole. A mindlessly destructive force screaming through space, ignorant of the pain it spawned. She could have sucked in all my light and destroyed me with her.”
His smile widens.
“But instead she’s turned into a sun. A force that brings warmth and life and beauty into everyone’s lives. We’re all here because of her. We’re all happy, because of her. And for all the darkness that’s been visited upon this family, I think it contains even more light.”
Celia: Celia lifts a hand to where he squeezes her shoulder. She looks up at him, searching his face for the truth. She finds it in the tightness around his eyes, the way his lips form the words, the very sound of his voice.
He’s lying through his teeth.
She rises, turning to face him fully, ignoring Diana and Emily and Maxen. She touches a hand to her heart, and then his, as if his words moved her. And they have. But the two of them both know there’s more to what he said than the syllables themselves. She steps forward, lifting her arms to put them around him, face pressed against his chest.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, just for him.
Her comment hadn’t even been about him. It had only been directed at her dad, at the damage he had done to her and the rest of them. But there was no way for him to know that. No way for him to see that she was doing more than just playing victim, that she really wanted her dad to think about what he’d done to the lot of them.
“I don’t know if Michael told you how we met,” she says to the table, turning slightly and taking her boyfriend’s hand, “but I was in bad shape. Mentally and emotionally. Burned out. Destructive. I never let you guys see it, but he did. He’s been working with me through everything. Helping me see things more clearly. It’s hard to change, and it’s painful sometimes, and it’s really easy to slip back into old patterns. But he’s been so patient, and I… I just really appreciate him for it.”
She looks once more to Michael, seeking his gaze with her own.
“Thank you. For understanding. For seeing me and not just my ways of being. I don’t mean to get emotional, I’m just… just so happy that you’re in my life and that we’re moving forward together.”
GM: “I am too, Celia,” Michael smiles back, squeezing her hand. “Moving forward is what counts. We can wallow in our past mistakes, or we can correct them and move forward. I know which I’d rather do.”
“I’m so happy for you two,” sniffs Diana. Her hand finds Maxen’s again.
“I am as well,” says Celia’s father, giving her mother’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve found a good man, Celia. I’m very impressed by him. By both of you.”
Emily just watches silently.
Celia: Correct them and move forward. Maybe no one else notices the way her fingers tighten around his, or the tiny tremble that runs down her spine at the word “correct.” But he’s right next to her, touching her, and she doesn’t hide the trepidation writ across her face when she looks up at him. She blinks once to tell him that she understands, and gives a tiny nod of agreement. They’ll move forward. She’ll lure in Gui and the two will move forward, and now that he knows everything they will be a team, and she can trust that he has her best interests at heart.
That’s what she wants, isn’t it? A partner? Someone she can ask for help?
Doubt clouds her mind. He hadn’t come last night. She’d needed him and he hadn’t come.
But she smiles, turning away to take her seat again.
Dinner has barely started and all she wants to do is run.
GM: “Oh, say, were you able to pick up juice at the store?” Michael asks as he sits back down.
Celia: “I was, yes. Only I got home and dropped one of the bags, just fell right out of my hands.” Celia uses her hands to tell the story, mimicking an explosion of glass and liquid. “All over the floor, all over me.” She gestures to the front of her, making a face as her hands pass her stomach. “Ruined my dress when it splashed up.” A tiny laugh. “We really need a new mop, feels like my shoulder fell off from trying to get it all off the floor. Good as new now, but I didn’t want to be late tonight and make anyone worry, so I planned to grab some on the way home to replace it.”
He gets it. Maybe.
It’s not like he’d given her a deadline, only told her that if she wants to spend the day with him again she needs to bring it.
“There was a spider,” she says with a little lift of her shoulders and color in her cheeks, as if that explains her wild story.
GM: “Oh, too bad your beau wasn’t there to squash it,” says Diana, wriggling her eyebrows. “I hate squishin’ bugs on my own. That’s what men are for!”
“That is what men are for,” Michael echoes in amusement.
“That is too bad, Celia. I would have squashed it for you.”
Celia: “Next time,” she says, but the private look she gives him asks if that’s true.
GM: He just smiles at her and spears a potato piece.
Celia: Celia looks away. There’s nothing left inside of him.
She should have let the Guard burn her.
GM: “I did hear about the spider, though,” says Michael. “Celia sent me some very scared texts.”
“Oh no, was it a really big one?” asks Diana.
“Smaller than I probably thought,” says Michael.
“She’s here now. Doesn’t look like it got her.”
“It is good to have man for that sort of thing,” says Maxen between a bite of steak. “But I’m glad she was able to get it on her own.”
“Yeah, I guess we’re pretty used to that in this family,” says Emily. “Having to take care of bad things on our own.”
She’s barely touched her food.
Maxen just inclines his head. “You are. All of you.”
“Is somethin’ wrong with the food, Emi?” asks their mom.
“No, nothing’s wrong with it, Mom,” says Emily. “I guess I just don’t have much appetite when there’s a wife-beating rapist child abuser in the room. I honestly cannot summon the will to eat.”
“Emi!” Diana exclaims.
Maxen bows his head. “Maybe this is too soon. I don’t want to intrude on this family or be the cause for missed meals. I can leave if I’m not welcome.”
“You’re not,” says Emily. She pushes out her chair and rises from her seat. “I think that’d be for the best. Door’s this way.”
Maxen pushes out his chair and rises with her.
“No! Max, stay. Please. I’d like to have dinner with you.” Diana takes his hand again but doesn’t rise from her seat.
Celia: Celia silently watches her family argue, biting her tongue to keep from interceding. Maxen seems sincere enough about going if that’s what Emily wants, but Emily… she thought they’d agreed. One dinner. She’d even brought “backup” in case Maxen tries anything.
She uses the cover of Emily and Maxen’s motion to reach for the salt shaker, flicking her wrist to pour a small amount of it into her palm. Then she, too, rises to look between the pair.
“Dad, I’m sorry, I think she might be right. I think I rushed this before everyone was ready. I think there’s a lot of unhealed trauma coming up for everyone and stepping into this idea of ‘family’ without giving Emily, Mom, and I the proper time might be doing all of us a disservice.”
Celia bites her lip. She looks to her mom, then Michael, and finally back to her dad.
“I think it might be like using a rug to cover a hole in the floor. I’d like to meet you in the middle, if that’s okay. You and I working through some things. Dinner, maybe. With the boys, if they want, and with Michael if he wants to lend support as well. Sometime this week, maybe.”
GM: “I think that sounds more than reasonable,” says Maxen. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen David, hasn’t it? And had dinner with Logan too.”
“Michael would also be welcome to have dinner with us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Flores. That would be my pleasure,” says Michael.
Celia’s attempt to pour salt unnoticed, however, goes horribly awry.
The Toreador’s preternaturally quick grasp is too swift. The lid, clearly not securely attached, flies off. It hits Maxen’s glass of non-alcoholic wine. Drink spills over his shirt and pants as the glass shatters over the floor.
“Oh, no, Max!” exclaims Diana.
Salt is spilled all over the table, too.
“Sorry,” she blurts, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Mike, can you grab some paper towels? In the kitchen?” She’s already moving to clean up the glass so that no one else risks a cut.
GM: “It’s okay, sweetie. Accidents happen,” smiles Celia’s dad. “Where’s the broom and dustpan?” he asks her mom, who’s already dabbing at the stains on his clothes with a napkin.
“In the closet. But nonsense, you’re a guest!” says Diana.
Maxen rises. “Please. You’ve already gone to so much trouble making this lovely dinner. May I?”
“Forget it, I’ll do it,” says Emily, already rising.
“Sweetie, you don’t need to be so contrary,” says Diana. Someone else might glare, but she sounds more like she’s chiding.
Michael rises and heads for the kitchen.
Celia: Celia ignores the bickering. She focuses on getting the large shards of glass off the floor, then uses a napkin to start scooping up the smaller pieces.
“Hey Emi, broom?”
GM: Maxen joins her on the ground, using his own napkin to help pick up glass pieces. “We can shine a light over the floor, when we’ve got all the pieces we can see. It’s so easy to miss little shards.”
Celia: “I’ve got it, Dad.”
GM: Emily strides back with the broom.
“Yeah. We’ve got it. Butt out.”
Maxen inclines his head and sets down the napkin with the few shards he picked up.
“I’m sorry. I was only trying to hel-”
“We don’t want your fucking help!”
“Emi, you’re being rude!” exclaims their mom.
“You know what’s rude, Mom? Raping someone! He fucking raped you!” Emily is getting red in the face.
Celia: Celia takes the broom and starts sweeping. She’s focused on the glass, on getting it all up, on not having any accidents this evening that she’ll need to explain. Smart, she thinks, to send Michael into the kitchen, an excuse to get away. Right? That’s smart. Just in case.
“Emily,” Celia cuts in, “he’s leaving. Okay? He’s going. I made a mess and it derailed his plan to leave but he’s going.”
GM: Michael is swiftly back with the paper towels.
“No! I’m going to at least get the stain out of his shirt!” says Diana. Her cheeks are flushing too at Emily’s description, but she doesn’t otherwise respond.
Celia: “It’s red wine, Mom,” Celia says gently. “It’s not coming out. I’ll get him a new one, okay?” Celia takes the paper towels from Michael with a nod of thanks and looks to her father, sizing him up. “16 neck, 42 chest?” she asks him.
GM: “Sweetie, if you want to pick up glass, it’s not my house. But I’m going to draw the line at my children buying me clothes outside of Christmas and birthdays,” Maxen chuckles. “It’s fine, I have plenty others. And I think my presence might be causing more harm than good right now, so I’ll take off.” He turns to his ex-wife. “Thank you for the lovely dinner.”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says again, rising from the floor with the wet paper towel in hand. She sets it aside. “I’ll walk you out.”
GM: Emily and Michael are busy cleaning up on the floor.
“No! You and Emi are just—you keep—” Diana exclaims flusteredly, still red in the cheeks. “I guess NO ONE is going to enjoy this dinner now! I spent a lot of time on it!”
“Put it in the oven again at low heat,” Maxen says gently. “It’ll be as good as fresh out.”
“You said you wanted to talk about Isabel! I don’t want to put that off because, because-!” Diana makes an exasperated gesture behind her.
“He doesn’t have anything to say about Isabel, Mom,” preempts Emily. “It’s been almost a decade since she was in touch.”
“Well you’re wrong about that, I know she talks to Logan!” retorts Diana, crossing her arms. “And I know he’s worried about her!”
Celia: “He is,” Celia quietly admits. “He’s spoken to me about it.”
GM: “I want to hear this, Max!” says Diana. “Do you have news about her?”
Celia: “Why don’t I see if he’s left a shirt here you can wear, Dad, and you and Mom can talk, and Emily and I will sit in the other room until you’re done. Michael, it’s up to you if you want to stick around, I’m sorry things got out of hand.”
GM: “Are you joking? I don’t want to leave him alone in a room with her,” says Emily.
“For goodness’ sake, Emily!” Diana exclaims in exasperation.
Michael just nods, but doesn’t move to leave or speak over the quarreling family.
Celia: “The room has a giant open door,” Celia says, gesturing to the living room that is, indeed, not hidden behind a tiny door or opening. It’s one large open area. “You’ll see them the whole time. You’ll even be able to hear them. But you don’t have to interact. Okay?”
Celia takes a step away.
“I’m going to find a shirt. Mike, do you want to..?” She makes a vague gesture about coming with her.
GM: “I don’t have any shirts of Logan’s, sweetie,” says her mom. “I gave them back since you were last here. And we don’t have any clothes in your father’s size.”
“It’s all right,” says Maxen. “I’m going to drive straight home.”
“I want to hear about Isabel,” says Diana. “Please.” She kneels to help with the glass as well.
Celia: “Mom, stop, I’ve got the glass. You two sit. Eat. Emily, other room. Take your plate if you want.” Celia resumes cleaning.
GM: “I’m fine staying, thanks,” says Emily.
“Sweetie, nonsense, you don’t need to clean this all up by yourself,” says Diana.
Celia: Celia gives her mother a look.
A very frank look.
A very frank “yes I do and you know why” look.
“Sit, Mom,” she says gently, “it’s almost done anyway.”
GM: “…all right,” says Diana. “If you’re sure.”
Emily looks at her for a moment.
Celia: She finishes cleaning. Once the glass is up there’s just the wine to get, and with paper towels soaking up most of it there’s not much else to be done. She sweeps the rest of the glass off the floor and into the dustbin, then comes back with a wet paper towel to get rid of the wine.
GM: Michael continues to help with the glass and cleanup, but otherwise doesn’t interrupt the family.
Diana looks like she feels bad about him cleaning, but doesn’t press.
“So, Isabel?” she asks her ex, leaning forward.
“Logan and I have not been able to get ahold of her for close to two weeks now. That’s not unusual, in of itself. Internet service isn’t always reliable where she is. This isn’t even the longest we haven’t heard from her.”
Emily looks confused by the ‘and I’, but doesn’t butt in.
“But…” says Diana.
“But,” grants Maxen, “she sounded in a very bad place, when she last spoke with us. Her boyfriend had gone missing, as you know-”
“Yes, Evan, that very nice boy,” Diana nods.
Celia: Celia keeps her head down while they talk, working on getting the worst of the spill off the floor. She glances at Michael as he assists, pain in her eyes, and touches the back of his hand.
GM: Michael just gives her an unimpressed look.
Maxen nods again. “And she’s been in touch more regularly, since he disappeared. And she usually gives a heads up, too, when she can’t talk for a while.”
“So you think something’s happened?” asks Diana. “I know it’s very dangerous, where she is.”
Celia: Celia withdraws the touch. She retreats inside of herself, where he can’t hurt her, and her face shutters. She moves to the kitchen to dispose of everything, though she can still hear the words of her parents.
She’s back a moment later.
GM: Everyone has seated themselves again, though no one is eating.
“It is,” says Maxen. “So, Logan and I assumed the worst. And we tried to get in touch with the group she’s doing missionary work with.”
“And that’s when we realized… we didn’t know the group. She never told us.”
“I thought he sent her to a mission,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.
Maxen shakes his head. “Isabel chose to do that on her own.”
“So, anyway. Logan and I called a bunch of different organizations, and I got some of my staffers to help out too.”
“And we didn’t find anything for an Isabel Flores.”
Diana looks worried, but doesn’t interject.
“So I brought in help with some private detectives. Logan and I agreed that we should at least know what mission she’s with, in case… in case of a situation like this.”
Celia: “Are you sure she’s with a mission?” Celia interjects. “She had it rough here. What if she just… moved away? Started fresh?”
GM: “Positive,” says Maxen. “She kept Logan and I updated about a lot of things. She said pretty recently that she was still doing missionary work.”
“But that idea did occur to the detectives, actually.”
“One of them suggested that maybe she had dropped out or moved on, and was still telling us she was doing missionary work. He said she might’ve not wanted to tell us, not been sure how to tell us, and just gone on saying she was still a missionary for a million possible reasons.”
Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s possible.
GM: “He said that he’s seen people do things like that a lot of times. But he did think it was likely she’d at least started with the mission, even if she dropped out later. Because it would’ve given her initial direction, room and board, plane ticket out of the States, et cetera. Not required her to make as many decisions. She was still very young and upset.”
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges, “but not… I mean, it could be that she just said that and went another way, to throw you off of her tail. You were…” Celia looks down, “Dad, you weren’t always the best father, if I were going to run I’d say something like that too. So no one could find me.”
GM: “That’s possible,” says Maxen. “I told them about the circumstances she left under.”
“I didn’t know if it would help or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.”
“They said that would help.”
“Because they weren’t able to find anything with any missions.”
“Anything?” asks Diana. “Weren’t there, I don’t know, records?”
“So they started at our family churches,” says Maxen. “Mine and the one you, your mother, and sister all go to. Because they figured that’s where a scared and directionless teen would go, a familiar church, rather than a stranger’s.”
“They interviewed priests, staff, people who were around in 2009. They looked into partnered missionary organizations and visited their headquarters in the city.”
Diana looks no less worried.
“Maybe she went with another one, or just didn’t go…?”
“They’re still looking into some other missionary organizations,” Maxen nods, “though they don’t expect much to come of it. They think Isabel might never have worked at one.”
“But why would she lie?” frowns Diana.
“Well, like Celia said,” says Maxen.
“She wanted to escape and throw me off her trail.”
“But to keep up the lie for almost ten years…?” says Diana, frowning even deeper.
“Yes, that’s the thing they found strange. Because we shared our texts with them,” says Maxen.
“They also asked Logan and me a lot of questions.”
“And Isabel spoke at considerable length about the religious work she was doing.”
“I could hear the pride in her voice.”
“She gave a lot of details. We talked about God all the time.”
“She said doing His work was the most fulfilling thing she’d ever done. That this was her life’s work, now.”
“I speak with my share of people who are, I might put it, less than sincere in their faith. That unfortunately comes up in politics.”
“Isabel sounded to me like a true believer.”
“The PIs thought so too.”
“So… why couldn’t they find anything at church, then…?” Diana asks puzzledly.
Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst. There are a lot of churches in the city, a lot in the state. She went to Liberty, maybe she met someone up there, fell in with a different crowd.”
GM: “Isabel never went to Liberty,” says Maxen.
Celia: Celia looks to him.
GM: “Yes, Logan said she did…” starts Diana.
She looks even more worried, now.
“She didn’t,” says Maxen. “We had no contact after she left. I know her college fund was never used.”
Celia: Celia stares.
Is he not going to say?
Is he not going to own up to what he did to her, how he kept her in a cage?
GM: Is that better or worse than killing her?
“The PIs talked to the people at Liberty,” says Maxen. “They thought maybe she took out loans, got a scholarship, or otherwise paid her own way through school.”
“Colleges keep records of all students they’ve ever had, obviously.”
“Liberty had nothing for an Isabel Flores.”
“Though they did have an application she filed back in high school.”
“Now, there is one other thing.”
Celia: “What about another college? Somewhere else? Maybe she just said Liberty because you wouldn’t accept another school…?”
GM: “Isabel didn’t leave New Orleans immediately, after… after the alleged tape was circulated. I know that for a fact.”
“She was still in the city for the better part of a year.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t dare glance at Michael, at Emily, at her mother. She keeps her eyes on her father’s face.
GM: “Well, what was she doing?” asks Diana. She still has that same puzzled tone.
“She was staying at home, where I was continuing to abuse her,” says Maxen.
Celia: She hadn’t thought he’d say it.
Not like that.
Not so frankly.
She swallows, taking a step back as if reeling, watching his face as the words leave his mouth. At her side her fingers curl into fists.
GM: “Oh,” says Diana.
Emily and Michael don’t say anything.
Celia: “Tell us,” says Celia. “Tell us what you did to her.”
GM: “I don’t want to hear that,” says Diana, shaking her head.
“I think he should tell us,” says Emily. “I think he should tell us everything. What was she doing, at home, for the better part of a year, Maxen? Because Logan and the others all said she disappeared. They said she was off at-”
“Emily, stop it!” snaps Diana.
Celia: “Did they know?” Celia asks quietly. “Logan, David, Soph? Did they know she was with you?”
“Did they do nothing?”
GM: “Your brothers and sisters aren’t at fault there,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell them.”
“That makes no sense,” says Emily. “She was at home, but they didn’t know? What, were you keeping her locked in her room? And isn’t that funny, coming right after that-”
“STOP IT!” yells Diana, standing up from her seat. Her face is red now, but not from embarrassment.
“I have not spoken to my daughter in almost ten years! This is not the time to drag up the past! Not now! Do it later! I want to know, Maxen, and I want to know right now: where is our daughter? Has something happened to her? Are we going to see her again?”
Diana’s voice is choked and breathless. Fear is naked and plain in her eyes.
“We don’t know,” Maxen answers quietly. “She’s now a missing person.”
“It’s possible something bad has happened. We don’t know. But the detectives think something might have.”
“They are still looking.”
Celia: Celia retreats further into herself. She knows what happened. Isabel is dead. Isabel is dead and it’s her fault. Isabel is dead and she could have prevented it and she didn’t, because she was petty and jealous and insecure and now she gets to watch it rip her family apart, rip her mother apart.
Her lip trembles, fingers flexing at her sides, and she blinks rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes before it has a chance to turn into tears. She doesn’t look at anyone. Her gaze stays focused on the ground, hatred and self-loathing in her heart.
GM: Her last sight as she looks away is of her mother sitting down and burying her face against Maxen’s chest.
She sounds like she’s softly crying.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to find her, Diana,” says Maxen. He must have his arms around her. That’s what you do with the mother of your child when she’s crying. The woman’s low sniffs continue to sound. “Dead or alive. I am going to find her. I am going to bring her back to us and back to you.”
“Oh… Isabel…” Diana moans. Her voice is muffled.
Celia: Celia presses her hands to her face. She turns, blindly stepping into the kitchen while her mother’s sobs tear her apart. She doesn’t look for comfort from Michael. She doesn’t think about intruding on this family moment when she has been the cause of so much pain. She silently slips away to let the tears fall.
She’d done this.
All of it.
It’s all her fault.
And there’s no way she can fix it now.
No way to bring her back.
Bornemann had been clear. Final death is final.
GM: She hears footsteps following after her.
Then she feels strong arms encircling her.
Holding her close.
Against a man’s taller frame.
She feels a head brush against hers, and Roderick’s voice breathe in her ear:
“It’s your fault.”
“I told you, didn’t I, that you were a black hole?”
Celia: He doesn’t even know the worst of it.
The words break her all the same. Any control she thought she had slips away; he kicks her while she’s down and it’s all she can do to remain upright, to stay tucked against him, to keep from fleeing into the night so she can find something dangerous to throw herself against.
His words break her. She sobs silently. Her shoulders don’t need to shake. She doesn’t need to breathe. But she sobs all the same, tears leaking from her eyes and down her cheeks, caught by her own hands.
Blood on her fingers. Red-handed. Her fault.
She only nods.
GM: His hands drop from her sides. He pulls her away, then grips her head so he stares directly into her face.
“Madly careening through space, though black holes don’t actually move, blacker than the void. Destroying everything it comes into contact with, sucking away all life and light down an inescapable void.”
“Crying the whole time, like you’re the victim.”
“Your mother, brothers, and sisters are the victims, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.
“These are crocodile tears.”
“They’re disgusting and pathetic, and they score no sympathy points, not with people who know who you are.”
“Truth always comes out.”
Celia: Every single one of his words slam into her like a physical blow.
The tears stop. Dead eyes stare at him when he captures her head in his hands.
She only nods again.
GM: “I told you this would happen. That your family wasn’t going to let this go.”
“But you were too selfish and too stupid to listen.”
Celia: Celia yanks away.
“Get out,” she says in a low voice.
GM: His grip only tightens, holding her firmly in place.
“You’ve never cared about anything beyond yourself, not really. You literally can’t consider it. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known. I finally see you past all the makeup, Celia. Past the superficial prettiness that washes away like so much filth under the sink.”
“When you cheated on me, you never really apologized, did you? No, you always justified it, and broke down in weeping histrionics when your lies were finally exposed. It wasn’t about me. It was about you. How scared you were of losing our relationship. How justified you were to do what you did. How unfair everything all was to you. You, you, you. You didn’t care you hurt me. You were never sorry for what you did. You don’t care about your family, either. You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life, and you cry victim the whole time. You’re a monster in denial that it’s even a monster. That’s what makes your act so convincing.”
“But lying is what you do best, isn’t it? You lie to yourself, too. Not just everyone else.”
“How does it feel to look at the truth, Celia? How does it feel to hear what you really are? Not even your family knows the real Celia, not like I do.”
Celia: That’s what she’d wanted to do this evening.
To talk to him about him. To apologize. To start to move past it. To have a conversation that doesn’t result in anger or tears. To speak softly, kindly, to give him the gift she’s been sitting on for years, to tell him that she knows she messed up, that she’s… that she’s sorry. About everything. About not trusting, about cheating, about lying, about all the times she had hurt him. To ask how else she could make it up to him.
Like everything else in her Requiem, it had been ruined.
“Awful,” she says, voice hollow. Her tears cease. They hadn’t been for her, they’d been for her family, but she doesn’t tell him that. It doesn’t matter. “It feels awful to know what I’ve become. It feels awful to know that my truth is ugly, selfish, evil. It’s awful, Michael. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”
She wishes they had kept her. That they’d burn her tonight. But she doesn’t say this, doesn’t tell him about her death wish, doesn’t even say it’s something that had been on the table.
He won’t care.
“I’m supposed to see Gui tonight. I’ll set the new date with him when I do. I’ll make sure it has nothing to do with either one of us. I’ll find out who sired Dani when I meet him as well. I’ll have the name for you tonight. I’ll have the blood for you this evening. All of it. You don’t have to let me stay, just let me know where to drop it off. I’ll make arrangements with Duke, as you asked. And I’ll fix this situation with my family. You were right. I should have already done it. I put it off. I was selfish and… and stupid.”
She stumbles over the word but gets it out.
“I can go now. I’ll go now to meet him, and set the date. Or part of the juice now, if you want it. My mother won’t mind a missing container. Then I’ll say bye. And I’ll go. And I’ll do as you said. Everything you said.”
GM: Roderick folds his arms.
“I guess you’d better get started, Celia.”
“I’ll only believe it when I see it.”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to him, even though she knows it doesn’t mean anything. She moves past him, reaching under a cabinet for a glass jar. Her mother prefers them to plastic. Less waste, she says, and Celia is glad for the twist off top. She glances into the dining room to make sure the humans are still occupied.
It’s a risk, even if they are. She steps out the back door, into the little space between Emily’s carriage house and Diana’s main house, and bites into her wrist.
She lets the blood flow.
Her Beast is not pleased. It hates the way she snivels and cowers before this lesser predator. Physically superior he may be, but he is nothing save a crying worm compared to her.
Oh no, my sire lied to me.
Oh no, my girlfriend cheated on me.
Oh no, I’m a sad pathetic sap.
It hates him. And it seethes when the girl wants to give the blood to him. It seethes as she takes from herself to give it up to this pathetic waste of Blood. Smart? Sure. But naïve. Without hiding behind his sire’s skirts he wouldn’t be long for this world.
He’s a spoiled childe playing at pretend.
Celia hisses as her fangs split her skin, hisses again when her Beast makes its displeasure known. One hit. Two. A third. Her Beast hates with every drop, seething inside of her. Claws rip into her stomach, so much worse than what Camilla had done to her last night, so much worse than the burns or the saw.
She’s choosing this. Playing victim again. Letting him control her.
And for what? What benefit has she gotten from this?
The blood flows. She fills the cup. Three hits, only part of what she owes, but the container can’t take anymore. A flick of her tongue across her wrist closes the wound. She steps back inside, grabbing a plastic bag from her mother’s pantry to wrap around the jar, and offers it to Michael.
GM: He accepts it without a word.
Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you want to come with me to meet him tonight we might be able to create an opportunity to jump him. You already have a different face. Otherwise I will… I’ll see you later, with the rest of everything.”
GM: “Get going, Celia,” is all he says.
“You may contact me when you have substantive progress to report.”
Celia: “Yes, sir.”
Sir. It slips out of her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She only bows her head and turns to go, making her excuses to her family.
“One of my clients has connections overseas,” she says, and it’s even true. “If she’s not in the States, he can start looking. I’m going to see him now to tell him about it. I also have police contacts I can pull on, and a PI friend myself.”
Celia hugs her mom.
“I’ll stop by later. Let me take care of these things while everyone is still awake. Dad, I’ll walk you out.”
GM: Michael follows her out. Celia finds her parents’ chairs still pulled up next to each other. Her mom is leaning against her dad’s shoulder, who has his arms around her. Her eyes are red from crying. Dinner looks untouched.
Diana returns Celia’s hug with one arm, but sniffs and shakes her head at her daughter’s last words.
“No. He’s staying.”
“Those sound like great ideas, Celia,” says her dad. “The more people we have looking, the better.”
Celia: Celia only nods.
“Then I’ll see you both later.”
GM: “See you,” says Emily. Her voice doesn’t sound at all irate. She’s still seated where she is, arms folded, watching Maxen and Diana.
Her face doesn’t look mad anymore, either.
She doesn’t once look away from the two.
Dinner looks untouched.
“I’m so sorry you had to see all of this, Michael,” Celia’s mom says in embarrassment.
“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Celia’s already shown me a lot of herself.”
Celia: She feels better knowing that Emily is looking out for them. That she’d protected Lucy from a demon entering through the door, at least.
“I’m picking up a phone first. Call me if you need anything.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie,” says her dad. “I was going to order you one online. I can have it delivered overnight. Is that fast enough?”
Celia: “Doesn’t hurt. I’ll grab a cheap thing in the meantime so you guys can reach me.” Most stores sell bullshit phones for a hundred bucks.
GM: “Sounds like a plan. What’s the address I should have it delivered to?”
“You gonna be back tonight?” asks Emily.
Celia: Celia tells him to send it to the spa. She gets most of her mail there anyway.
GM: Maxen nods and says he’ll send it there.
“I dunno how many stores will still be open this hour on a Sunday,” says Emily.
Celia: It’s not even nine.
“Herrick’s. Any other big box retailer. I’ll find something. Or borrow one.”
GM: Emily pulls out her own phone.
“The nearby Herrick’s is already closed, but there’s one in Gentilly open until 10 and one in Algiers open to 11. 20 minute drive. You need the address?”
Celia: “Sure. Gentilly. Unless you just want to let me borrow your phone, Ma. I can log into my account from there.”
GM: “Oh, feel free,” says her mom. “It’s… where I’d leave it…”
“You can borrow mine if you want,” says Emily.
“Oh, it’s in my bedroom, sweetie. Whichever you’d like.”
“They’re both Solarises, so.”
Celia: “I don’t need to see Robby sending you nudes,” Celia says to Emily with a wink. She moves down the hall to Diana’s bedroom to find the phone, looking for Lucy when she gets there.
GM: “You wish,” says Emily, though her heart doesn’t sound like it’s in the banter. She still has half an eye on their mother and Maxen.
The doll is lying on the ground by the door. The porcelain face is utterly still. The doll’s unblinking eyes bore into Celia’s.
She finds her mother’s phone on the bedside table. There’s a pattern unlock.
Celia: “Lucy,” Celia whispers to the doll, “I put you on the bed. Why are you here?” She picks up the doll and the phone, putting the doll into her purse. Only the doll doesn’t fit. It’s too big, even for the practical bag Celia had worn tonight. The entire head sticks out.
“When I come back tonight,” she tells Lucy, “I’ll merge you, okay? I love you. I love Diana. Just bear with me for a while so she doesn’t scream when she sees you.”
Celia reaches for the doll with that gift Benson had given her, the one that can transform anything she holds into a doll and a doll into anything else. Scarf, she thinks, and the doll’s form blurs into a scarf that trails from her purse. Celia keeps her tucked inside as best she can.
Then she’s back to the living room, asking her mother for the pattern unlock so she can get into it.
GM: The doll offers no response or explanation as Celia picks it up.
Then Celia doesn’t have a doll, but a scarf. At least as far as her mother can see.
Diana takes the phone and shows her daughter the pattern to trace.
Celia: “Appreciate it, Mom. I’ll bring it back in a bit. I love you.”
GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mom sniffs, hugging her again. “I’m so glad to have you here, right now. Just so glad.”
Her father and Emily echo both of those sentiments.
Celia: She shouldn’t be. But Celia doesn’t say. She just smiles, kisses her mom on the cheek, and gets going.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
Celia: Celia gets into her car and starts with the practical, logging into her WhatsApp so she can reach out to a handful of people.
GM: Roderick leaves the house with her after exchanging farewells with Celia’s family. He says he’s looking forward to staying in touch with Maxen. He gets into his own car and drives off without saying goodbye.
Celia: It’s okay, she doesn’t say goodbye to Roderick either. She doesn’t even wave or offer to do his face or tell him that she’d had a handful of identities picked out for him.
She’s not even sure why she’s so caught up in the idea of fixing things with him.
She checks to see if Gui called or texted.
Did you move out of my mom’s? she sends to Dani.
Where are you? to Reggie.
GM: Gui has not.
Yeah I moved in with my dad, tonight a good time for us to catch up? answers Dani.
There’s no immediate response from Reggie.
Celia: Possibly, she replies to Dani. In trouble. Need to figure some stuff out. Will call you in a min.
GM: Ok. Let me know if I can help!
Celia: She calls Reggie.
GM: No response.
Celia: “Call me back,” she says to his voicemail. “I need you.”
She hangs up and pulls out of the driveway, then calls Gui.
GM: The Ventrue picks up after a few rings.
Celia: “Hey, babe. You free? I’d love to explain what happened last night.”
GM: “Sure. Later tonight.”
Celia: “Before or after the party?”
GM: “After. 3’s a good time.”
Celia: “Perfect.” A slight pause. “Are you still going to bring your friend? I wouldn’t have blown you off if I’d had any choice in the matter, baby.”
GM: “You’ll have what I want?”
Celia: “I always have what you want.” She giggles. “But yes, absolutely.”
GM: “Mmm. Some opportunities passed me by. Time-sensitive ones. I can bring along my friend at 4, and you’ll owe me a favor, or it can be just me at 3.”
Celia: Celia, as Jade, huffs into the phone.
“You’re not the only one who lost out last night. But I’ll show you I’m good for it. Consider me in your debt, darling. I’ll see you at four.”
GM: “You got it, lush. It’ll be a party to remember.”
Celia: At least she’ll still get Dani’s sire out of it. That’s something, right?
Celia glances at the phone, dialing Reggie again.
GM: Her answer is the same.
“Yo. Leave a message.”
Celia: She doesn’t leave another message. She tries his brother instead. The live one.
GM: “Yes?” comes Rusty’s voice after a few rings.
Celia: “Hi, Rusty. You hear from Reggie at all? I’ve been trying to get ahold of him. I’m worried.”
GM: “Recently enough I don’t think he’s missing like Randy.”
Celia: “Has he found anything?” Celia presses.
Celia: The phone moves away from her mouth for a moment. Rusty can hear a muffled swear.
“If you see him, have him call me. There’s some shit hitting the fan and I want to make sure you two are safe while we look for your brother.”
GM: “We’re fine,” snorts Rusty. “Randy’s the one who’s probably unsafe.”
Celia: “I was picked up in the heart of the Quarter last night,” Celia all but snarls into the phone, “which means that no one is ‘safe.’”
GM: “You sound fine. So are we.”
Celia: She takes a breath.
“Rusty,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t help find Randy if I don’t know what Reggie found, or where he is. I can’t look for two people at once. I only want to make sure you’re both okay, and that whoever took Randy isn’t going to come for either one of you. Okay?”
GM: “We’re fine, we’ve found nothing, and Mom is very upset,” Rusty says irritably. “Do you have some way in mind to help or is that all?”
It occurs to Celia this is the second family she’s sent on a wild goose chase for a ‘missing’ relative.
Celia: She’s a terrible person.
Roderick is right.
“I have some people to follow up with. I’ll let you know what I find. Stay safe.”
GM: “For the fourth time, we are safe.”
There’s noise in the background. It sounds like angry voices.
“Rusty, get off the phone!” snarls one.
Celia: “I know,” Celia breathes into the phone. “I know you said that.”
She’s a mess. Her entire Requiem has become a mess. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. Her lover, lost. Her allies, lost. Her friends, lost. Even her servants, lost.
She’s alone. Trying to keep the rest of her unlife from hemorrhaging further, ruining everything that she touches in the meantime.
“Keep me updated.”
She hangs up, staring at the phone in her hands.
She’s a monster. Just like he said. She’s a monster.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
Celia: For long moments, Celia sits in her car, wondering about the future in store for her. Camilla had said dangerous nights are coming, that she might not survive. What of her sire, will he survive? Will Roderick? Savoy?
Does she care?
None of them had come for her. None of them had lifted a finger to help her. Savoy and Roderick and even her own ghoul had done nothing when she’d told them what happened. Maybe she doesn’t blame Savoy, not really, he has kept her at an arm’s distance since the night she told Donovan his plan.
But the other two? Reggie is supposed to be devoted to her. Roderick is supposed to love her. Even Rusty had been dismissive, and Alana only wanted to fuck.
A knife twists in her gut.
Love. As if such a thing exists among Kindred. Coco was right: maybe it does, but it’s rare. What are the chances that she’s the one who found it? Even if Roderick is in there somewhere, he has turned into an abuser. He has turned into another Maxen, taking out his rage on the girl he’s supposed to love, supposed to protect.
She cannot count on him. Not now. Not ever.
Her whole life she was a puppet for men, used and abused and tormented, and she let it continue on in her Requiem. Her sire. Her lover. She’d had the upper hand with her boyfriend and had gotten on her knees for him the moment he asked.
She truly is the pathetic creature that Preston thinks her.
She’s playing human. Playing victim. Not because Roderick said so, no, but because she’s giving away whatever power she had, letting others control her. She’d heard the truth of her sire from Camilla: how he had shown up and tortured, humiliated, and abused her for losing control. How he had killed whatever feelings of love she’d once had. Killed or demand she bury. She, too, walks the knife’s edge.
Celia is so tired of the cut of that blade. Playing how many sides. How many people. Lying to everyone. She can’t move forward when she’s constantly holding herself back. She’s betrayed her grandsire, the one who looks out for her. Maybe he doesn’t race to her rescue in the middle of the night, but she’s comfortable, secure, even happy in his court. Domain, his ear, the lab—how many other neonates can say they get to see him when they want, even if he makes her wait a few nights? And when her sire comes calling she sells him out. The sire that has done nothing for her. The sire that abandoned her. The sire that beats and humiliates her. The sire that put her mother, her siblings, her lover at risk. That sire. The one who tasked her with destroying everything she loves.
She is a monster.
A rabid dog choking on the edge of its chain, biting the hands that try to pet it because all it has known is suffering.
But not in the way his little brain says. Not in the way his black-and-white worldview offers. For what does he know of monsters? What does the boy born with a silver spoon in life and unlife both know anything of pain? What horrors does he think he faced that he can look at her, who loves more fiercely than any lick in this city, who put herself in danger to save her ghoul, to save her mother (how many times now?), and call her “monster.” What other things has he seen in his Requiem that show him true horror? Hers began with pain. Humiliation. Terror.
No, the monster at her core is the kind that Ocean said. A hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once. A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. Neither of this world or the other. Dead, physically. But alive. Blazing. She has let those around her gutter and temper her flame, but she is not the sort of fire to be controlled.
She is inferno, and she will burn them all.
She will give him his blood. She will give him Gui. And then the slates are clean, and she will walk away.
She is no one’s pet, and she is tired of the soft, docile, tamed mask. It no longer fits her face.
The girl in the mirror needs a new name, but that will come. For now, she shifts her face to what the city of licks expects to see and drives into the night.
She has luck to collect.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
Celia: The streets take her to the boat. The boat takes her to the cabin boy. The numbers on her dash show the time of their meeting. Perfect. A bit of cloaking and she’s whoever they want her to be, strolling through the casino to knock upon his door.
GM: Everyone in the casino ignores Celia’s presence utterly. Just another face in the crowd. It’s when she attempts to enter the ‘employees only’ area of the casino, however, that she is stopped by suited security personnel who politely ask her business.
Celia: Just as politely, she explains she has a meeting with Mr. Cambridge.
GM: They ask her name.
Celia: She gives it to them.
GM: One of the men makes a phone call. The person on the other end evidently confirms that Ms. Kalani does have business at the casino. Mr. Cambridge is not currently on the Alystra, she is told, but is expected back at 11 PM (and to be gone again by midnight, no doubt for Midnight Mass). Jade is free to avail herself of the casino’s many entertainments until Mr. Cambridge returns, or to leave and return herself by 11. Mr. Brodowski is also present if she wants to meet with him. He handles more business matters than Mr. Cambridge does.
Celia: Any irritation at that revelation doesn’t cross her pretty face. He’d said now.
She asks if he perhaps left a package for her.
GM: He has not, to their knowledge, though Mr. Brodowski more commonly handles the delivery of important packages than Mr. Cambridge does. He may have one.
Celia: She assents to meeting with him.
GM: Brodowski meets Jade after several minutes in a tastefully appointed office space. The decor is minimalist, though sleekly modern rather than utterly bare like her sire’s haven. Glass, soft lights, and silver-gray and wooden hues predominate. The Ventrue is dressed in a tailored and stylish navy suit at odds with his emaciated frame, hollow cheeks, and discolored eyes. The esthetician is positive he’s wearing makeup to look as ‘good’ as he does. Still, he rises at Jade’s entrance and sits when she sits.
“Package pickup, Miss Kalani?” he smiles.
Celia: Jade takes a seat when prompted, smiling at the Ventrue across the desk from her. It wouldn’t take her long to fix that haunted, gaunt look to him.
“Package pickup, Mr. Brodowski,” she agrees. “Mr. Cambridge is to have it ready for me.” A pause, small tilt of her head, a knowing smile. “Not that sort of package, darling.”
GM: Brodowski chuckles audibly.
“The entendres there are rather too easy, Miss Kalani, so we’ll assume I made a few ‘package’ quips. But here you are.”
He gets up and opens a mini-fridge in the office’s corner.
Celia: Jade smiles at the stiff’s reference, all too real amusement dancing in her eyes. It is, as he said, low hanging fruit.
GM: Brodowski retrieves three bags of blood that he sets down on the desk. The dark red liquid looks ordinary enough, to Jade’s inspection.
“The luckiest blood in New Orleans,” he says as he sits.
Celia: Jade eyes the blood, counting three, then looks back to Brodowski. The smile never fades.
“When shall I stop by for the rest?”
GM: “This is a casino, Miss Kalani. We keep a thorough accounting of all balances and transactions,” Brodowski smiles back.
“Prince Guilbeau promised you half the blood originally in Mr. Gunner’s veins. This amount, and the blood taken from Mr. Cambridge after he fed from Mr. Gunner, comes out to half.”
Celia: She can’t help but let out a tiny, tinkling laugh.
“Very thorough, Mr. Brodowski. I have something for your sire. When is good for that exchange?”
GM: “Are you amenable to a Wednesday at 1 or a Thursday at 2, Miss Kalani?”
“You can also make the delivery any time prior, of course, but Prince Guilbeau understands if you’d rather exchange things at the same time.”
Celia: “Oh, it has little to do with exchanging things at the same time and more to do with something else I would offer him that requires a brief discussion. Something bigger.” The smile that stretches across her face is positively predatory. “Thursday at 2 will work splendidly. But I’ll perhaps take you up on that early delivery option.”
GM: “Thursday sounds splendid on multiple counts, in that case,” Brodowski smiles back. Less obviously predatory, but pleased-seeming all the same. “Prince Guilbeau so very hopes that the two of you will have a mutually satisfactory exchange.”
“If there’s no further business tonight, Miss Kalani, I’m sure I’ll see you at Elysium. Enjoy your evening.”
Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.”
Jade deposits the blood into her purse and rises, inclining her head to the Ventrue before she heads for the door.
Another bit of cloaking and she’s free of the casino and on her way to the next big adventure.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
Celia: She has hours yet before she needs to be to Elysium. Hours and no meetings, no appointments, nothing but time to plan and act.
Dani and Alana both want her attention this evening. She has Duke to call. Randy’s death to disguise. Progress of her own to make on the talisman from Marcel, lest the hounds come sniffing ’round her panties once more.
Next time, she thinks, she’ll swat their eager little snouts with a rolled paper.
She starts with the blood, driving back to her haven and heating a single bag of it until it is warm enough to not only drink, but to be satisfying as well. She swallows one of the hits that Marcel set aside for her. Perhaps annoyed that Josua had told them she’d been given more from him, perhaps annoyed at herself for expecting two more pints, the feelings dissipate when liquid luck touch her tongue. It is fire in her veins, static at her fingertips, lightning in her lungs.
It is giddy, electrical energy, and the girl dances through her empty haven while her skirt sweeps out around her, shedding herself of the shy, timid, broken woman she had been like a snake ridding itself of too-tight coils or a butterfly emerging from its goo-cocoon to become a stunning, fluttering creature.
Celia Flores, inferno.
She dresses for the night. She dresses for what she is: strong, passionate, vibrant. She dresses for the fire that does not lick her skin but that lights her up from inside, for the sun that sears her face but does not immolate her, for the shadow that hid her for so long and finally relents to let her have this bright, shining moment.
She stares at herself in the mirror.
And then she undresses, shedding the skin once more to don a black dress that will fit in with the whores at Bourbon Heat, and she packs her wings away for Elysium. She hides the lucky blood, gathers what she will need for the night—including that stake of hers, extra restraints—and sets off with the clicking of her heels heralding the way.
GM: There’s an audible crash before the dressed-up Toreador leaves her haven. Her purse lies on the ground. Lucy is still inside, but it’s tipped over, and the other contents spilled. The doll’s glassy eyes bore unblinkingly into hers.
Celia: The girl stares down at the doll.
“So you do move,” she says to it. “And here I’d thought Diana had stolen you.”
GM: The porcelain lips remain motionless.
Celia: The girl’s knees bend. She brings herself lower to the floor to better observe the doll.
“Maxen is with her this evening. Did you think that a good moment to intrude?”
GM: The doll’s stare bores into the girl.
Celia: She glances at the clock on the wall. However long the process takes with Lucy, she’ll still have time for Bourbon Heat. It’s not as if she needs something specific.
“Do you want to do it now?”
GM: The doll only stares at the girl, glass eyes unblinking.
Celia: The girl gives a tiny nod. She reaches for the doll.
“Tonight, then, my little darling Lucy. Tonight we free you.” She holds the doll against her chest, much the same as a mother with her child. “Will I need anything else for you or her, do you know?”
GM: The doll’s blue dress and torso is soft against the girl. She’s long since learned from Elyse how that part of dolls isn’t made from porcelain, even though the head and limbs are.
Lucy does not say so.
Celia: Another nod, as if the doll has indeed spoken to her.
“The books,” she agrees, and with Lucy still tucked against her she gathers the texts that Lucy had wanted from the library. She takes the card as well, tucking it all into the overturned purse with the rest of the spilled contents. The letter she’d had Jade write to her mother is moved from her bedside table to one of the pockets on her purse. A moment in front of the mirror and she is Celia again. She casts her eye around for anything else that might help with the transition. After a second of consideration she moves into her closet to find an old piece of jewelry.
She texts Dani that she’s going to her mom’s for a bit, then probably going dancing. Or they can meet later, after church.
“Come, Lucy. Let us free you from your porcelain prison.”
GM: Dani texts back and asks if she’d like to go dancing together. (She is getting hungry.) Or to go to church together, “with Hannah.” Stephen told her about ‘his’ church.
Celia: Dancing together sounds good. Celia says she’ll meet her there. She says they’ll talk about Hannah at the club.
GM: Dani hashes out a time and replies enthusiastically she’ll meet Celia there.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
GM: It’s a short drive for Celia back to her mother’s house. She opens the door and walks into the living room to find her mom snuggled up next to her dad on the couch. There’s a movie playing. Diana doesn’t really look like she’s paying attention to it. Her eyes are half-closed and she’s leaning her head against Maxen’s shoulder, feet pulled up under her knees. Emily watches (the pair) from a nearby chair with a wooden expression.
Celia: A touch has the doll disguised once more. She doesn’t want to frighten Diana any more than she needs to. Celia glances at Emily, then her parents. Gently, she touches Diana’s shoulder.
GM: “Mmm…?” her mom starts, blinking at the contact.
Celia: “Hi, Momma. I need to talk to you for a minute.”
GM: “Oh… right now, sweetie?” Diana asks sleepily.
“Right now sounds good,” agrees Emily. She gets up and rubs their mom’s shoulder. “C’mon, Mom, you need to get to bed soon anyway. School night.”
“That’s probably for the best,” says Maxen. “Things go okay, sweetie?” he asks Celia as he starts to get up.
GM: “I’d like you to stay the night,” Diana says earnestly to her ex. She takes his hand and gently tugs him back down to the couch. “I want to make you breakfast. I want to see you off to work.”
“I couldn’t imagine a lovelier start to my morning,” smiles Celia’s dad. “It’ll have to be pretty early for the commute up to the capitol. And the stop home.”
“Yes, for a replacement shirt,” Celia’s mom laughs softly, touching Maxen’s chest where the stain is.
Celia’s dad just smiles and puts his hand over Diana’s.
Celia’s mom lays her head against Maxen’s chest and closes her eyes.
Celia: “How early is early?” Celia asks idly, gently rubbing a hand up and down Diana’s back. “This kind of can’t wait, Mom, it’s important.”
She finally looks to her dad.
“My friends are aware.” It’s an easy line. Not a lie at all. “They’re going to start looking.”
GM: “Good,” says Maxen. “The more people we have looking, the better.”
The happiness on Diana’s face sinks at that reminder.
But it was a weary-looking and worry-harried happiness to begin with.
She nods slowly in concurrence.
“Okay, sweetie,” she says to Celia after a moment, looking away from her ex. “We could talk in my bedroom?”
Celia: Celia nods, excusing the pair of them.
GM: Her mom leads her into the bedroom, closes the door after them, and sits down on her bed.
“I’m so glad to have him here, Celia,” she says quietly.
“Just so glad.”
Celia: Celia sits beside her, setting her purse down on the floor.
“What about your vision? With Lucy?”
GM: “I think it was just a nightmare or something, sweetie.”
Celia: “You’re an adult, Mom. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. It makes things difficult with the blood if you don’t stay in the Quarter, but… as long as he’s not abusing you…”
GM: “You saw him, Celia. He was so kind. So gentle.” She closes her eyes. “Oh, I have missed having a man.”
“God has answered my prayers.”
“If anyone can find Isabel…”
Celia: Celia is quiet a moment. She’d had that once, too. She doesn’t want to let the thoughts linger.
“Stephen hits me,” she finally says. “And calls me stupid, and belittles me in other ways. Everything he said tonight in front of the family was a lie.”
She reaches for her mother’s hand.
“I don’t want that for myself anymore. And I don’t want that for you. Promise me, Mom. The minute it starts. The minute he lifts a finger against you or says a harsh word. The minute you feel unsafe, no matter how silly. Promise me you won’t go back to that. That you won’t stay.”
GM: Celia’s mom blinks.
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“It’s not about that right now. This is about you and Dad. I’m just telling you that I have one thing to do for him because my grandsire demands it, and then I’m walking away. I’m done. I’m done being a doormat. And if I’m done, then you’re done.”
GM: “It—oh my god, sweetie!” she exclaims, taking Celia’s hands in hands. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter. “When did this start?!”
“What happened? He was, I thought the nicest boy!”
Celia: She’s doing it again. Making herself the victim.
“Do you remember when I was nineteen and you needed the money,” she says quietly.
GM: “Yes,” her mom nods. “When the collections agency was garnishing my wages. I’m definitely not about to forget that crummy apartment.”
Her mouth hangs open. “He was hitting you then?!”
Celia: “No. God, no. He was sweet. He was sweet until… until Friday, really. It just started then. I did some things I’m not proud of.” There’s no emotion to her voice. She might as well be discussing the weather.
“To make a long story short, I cheated on him. I lied to him. Multiple times. About a lot of things. And he’s had a bad week. His sister. His sire. Some other stuff. So Friday reached a boiling point, and he told me how he things would be.” She shrugs. “Then he caught me in another lie.”
“I’m fine. I heal. I’m just telling you that… that I’m not putting up with it anymore, and I’m not letting you put up with it anymore. No matter what we once had, it’s dead now.”
“I was kidnapped last night. He knew. He didn’t come. After what he said to me during dinner today, I’m not interested in trying to mend anything.”
“So if Maxen starts up with his shit again, you are not going to lie there and take it.”
GM: Diana takes all of that in slowly. There’s a very grave look on her face when she opens her mouth.
Then she blinks again.
“You were kidnappd?!”
Celia: “They were going to burn me today.” Celia shrugs. She looks away. “I made a trade to get out.”
“That’s, ah, where I lost my phone, incidentally.”
GM: “Oh my god! Who? Who was going to burn you?!” Diana exclaims, pulling Celia into her embrace. As if scared something else is going to snatch her daughter away.
Celia: Celia lets her mother hold her, but only for a moment. She repeats that she’s fine. That she got out. That she handled it.
GM: “But that’s not fine! I can’t believe, I can’t believe that… are you safe now, sweetie? That’s what matters, are you safe?” Celia’s mom reluctantly lets her pull away, but takes both of her hands.
Celia: She doesn’t know.
“I have to give them the thing I traded,” she says instead, “and they’ve got ways to make me comply. Once that’s done? Yeah. Probably.”
GM: Diana looks less than assured by that answer and squeezes Celia’s hands all the tighter.
“Can I help? Is there anything, anything I can do, Celia, to help keep you safe?”
“I’m not going to lose another daughter. I’m not. I’m not!” her mother’s voice is thick at those words.
Celia: “I think I figured it out. I’ll let you know. But this isn’t about me, Mom, this is about you. Some of us live forever, and some of us have shorter existences than we normally would. I just want to make sure that even if I’m gone you’re not going back to what you were.”
GM: “I am not losing you, Celia!” her mom repeats, still clasping Celia’s hands in hers. “You are going to outlive me and that’s that. So you let me know. Anything you can think of. I don’t care how inconvenient it is or what it costs.”
“I had my lesson with Robby today, and that went well, but he said it’d be… a month or two, before I really had it down! He said I might be able to trim that frame down to two weeks, if I was practicing every day for eight hours.”
“I could take a leave from work. If you think that’d help.”
Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t want you to do that. I need some time to think, and I need to talk to…” to who? Who hasn’t she disappointed? “…my friend,” she says vaguely, “and I might, um, I might see if I can like dig a secret room or something that I can hide out in here if shit really hits the fan, somewhere I can go as Luna that a human wouldn’t be able to reach, just a safe place to sleep if needed. I might change my face and start a new identity. So I want some security in place around that, if it happens. A code phrase, so you know I’m me and I know you’re you.”
Celia squeezes her mother’s hands.
“Did you bring Lucy back with you the other night? I saw her here earlier.”
GM: “No, I didn’t do that,” Diana answers with a puzzled frown.
“But a place for you to hide out. Cat-sized. Okay, I think I can do that. You want it to be safe from the sun, and hidden,” her mom nods, “is there anything else it needs?”
“Or, sorry, did you mean human-sized, but someplace only a cat can go?”
“Small human sized. I don’t get uncomfortable if I sleep in funny positions. Really. I only use a bed out of habit.”
GM: “You do?” her mom asks curiously, then remarks in a wry tone, “Well, you’re the envy of every ballerina there!”
“I also saw you turn into a bird. That might be more secure.”
“If only a bird could get in, that is.”
Celia: “Bird takes more, ah, juice sometimes. Cat is easier. But yeah, we could make that work. So far as what it needs… I mean, safety is really it. No sun. Hidden. Burner phone. Weapon, maybe. Blood never hurts. But that would need to be kept cold, and drawing power into the area is a giveaway. I just… I don’t know, Stephen told me they’re all preparing for war, and I was told the same thing last night. Or similar. I have some supplies but evidently not enough.”
Celia shakes her head.
“We’ll work out the details. In the meantime, Lucy. She was here earlier. I took her with me when I left and she knocked my purse over when it looked like I was going back out without her. Do you still want to merge?”
GM: Diana initially nods at Celia’s haven plans. Her face turns still again at the mention of Stephen. Her eyes look bewildered, but there’s a rising color to her cheeks too.
Then at Celia’s question, she blinks and looks somewhat flummoxed.
“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”
Celia: “You said you wanted to. That you want yourself back.”
“She’s in my purse. Why don’t you ask her what she wants?”
GM: “Well. I was… a bit tipsy,” says Diana, looking down at the bedsheets.
Celia: Celia doesn’t quite frown.
“She won’t talk to me, Mom. I brought the books she wanted from the library. And her library card. The lady spoke to her and gave her one.” Celia reaches into the purse to pull the books and card out. She shows it to her mom, pointing out the date of birth.
“And this,” she says, pulling the old pendant from the bag as well, “it’s… um, all I have from before the divorce, and you said it’s been in your family forever, so I thought maybe it would… connect you? Or… I… I don’t know. Something.”
Celia looks down at the piece of jewelry in her hands. It had been the only thing she’d saved from the time Maxen threw out all of Diana’s things. Not the trophies. Not the photos. Just this. A trinket. Luana had chastised her for being so selfish, and Celia had taken it to heart. Now, though, it means more than that. Her mother had wanted to give it back to her in the hospital but Celia refused, saying it wouldn’t be safe with Maxen.
She’d gotten it once the family was free of Maxen instead. Freedom. Hope. Courage. That’s what it means to her. She touches it now and remembers the tears in Diana’s eyes when she’d handed it over, the infant Lucy at her chest. She hadn’t needed to say anything.
GM: “Oh, you know that’s my favorite…” Celia’s mom starts when she pulls out the Pride and Prejudice copy, but trails off at the sight of the floral pendant.
She looks at it for a while, then traces a finger along the edge.
“I wanted to give that to you, you know, when you married Stephen. And then when I learned you were together again, and that he was still alive, I wish I’d held onto it. And now that you said he’s…” Diana closes her eyes for a moment, not finishing that thought, and gives Celia a wan smile.
“I guess there’s never really a good time for anything, is there?”
Celia: Celia’s smile turns sad.
“No. The stars never align like we think they will.”
“We just get to turn whatever opportunities we have into the perfect moment and trust ourselves.”
“Jade also… wrote you this,” Celia continues. “She wanted to come here last night after she escaped, but she was afraid you’d turn her away. So I wanted to give you this. To make sure you got it.”
GM: “You can always come to me, Celia!” her mom starts, but looks at the letter after Celia pulls it out.
Celia: It reads:
GM: Celia’s mom slowly reads through the three pages, eyes scanning back and forth.
Her lip trembles and her eyes bead at the description of Jade’s “birth”. She doesn’t make it through the first page before she drops the letters to embrace Celia, rubbing her back and whispering that she had no idea, that she’s so sorry, that she wishes she’d been there, that she loves Celia, that she’s so sorry—
They’re not unfamiliar words to the two women.
Celia might feel more like she’s comforting her mom, than the other way around. Diana cries a bit. She’s so sorry this happened to Celia. So sorry. She wishes there was some way to take away her pain, to have made things turn out another way, to have protected her—
But, as the letter says when Celia hands it back, that’s where Jade came in.
Her mom sniffs and dabs her eyes as her eyes move across Jade’s flowing handwriting.
“I… I don’t know what to say, Celia,” her mom says with another sniff when she’s finished.
“I do want what’s best for you, of course I do.”
“What does she mean by… cohabitate?”
Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. Mostly, she’s over it. It was a long time ago.
Her eyes scan the letter at the question, and for a moment she stills. Her eyes seem fixated on nothing. Then she moves, finding a pen in her purse to scratch out the word in question and replace it with another.
“Coexist.” Her voice is slightly off. “Get along. Not be detrimental to each other.”
GM: “Why doesn’t she have a mom, when Leilani does?” Diana asks.
“She said I was her mommy.”
Celia: “Born at different times.”
GM: “Sorry?” Celia’s mom asks.
The girl shakes her head.
“Jade and Leilani were born at different times, in different ways. They represent two different sides of me. Jade is survivor, born of suffering. Leilani is innocent, softer. She is… a concept, I think, more than a… more than a person.”
Does it make sense? The girl doesn’t know.
“I don’t know the science behind it, if that’s what it is. I don’t always understand how they work. But it does not matter right now. Only what you wish to do with Lucy. To combine her with you again, to be a full person once more, or to stay cleaved in half.”
GM: Diana opens her mouth as if to reply, but stops when the girl says it doesn’t matter.
“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”
Celia: “I wouldn’t have survived without Jade. Without Leilani. Without Luna. I would have lived half a life, and my Requiem would have ended prematurely. Lucy might give the fire back to you that you want. Courage, hope, freedom. Whatever that looks like to you.”
The girl reaches into her bag to find the doll. The illusion breaks. She sets the porcelain thing on her lap.
“She won’t talk to me,” she says again. “Am I afraid it will harm you? Turn you into someone you’re not? Yes. I don’t have the answers on what might happen. But I… I think that, above all, she’ll protect you.”
“And if I’m gone… if anything ever happens like it did last night, I want to know you’re safe.”
GM: Diana gives a soft intake of breath. Her eyes look over the doll, then back to the girl.
“Your father could keep me safe. He’s been good and kind, every since he came back to our lives.”
Celia: “We don’t know if that’s an act.”
“We don’t know what he wants.”
“We don’t know if he lied about the demon.”
GM: “But you’ve seen how good he is to us, sweetie. Why would it be an act?”
Celia: Because his master is the most cold-blooded, ruthless, icy-hearted lick in the city.
GM: “It’s not like he needs me for money or anything.”
Celia: “Image. Another punching bag. I don’t know. Tonight we were supposed to see. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t have the answers. But I’d rather you be safe than submit yourself to him again.”
GM: Diana’s eyes fall to her lap.
“I… I didn’t tell you this, earlier, but… part of me liked, I think, what Jade did. Or part of what she did.”
“Just… being able to submit and let someone else make all the decisions.”
She still doesn’t meet the girl’s gaze.
“I know you and Emi would think… think badly of me, for that.”
“Obviously she was hurting me, and that’s not okay.”
“And she wasn’t my husband, either.”
“I’d just… I’d just really like a husband I can… support. Let make all the big decisions. Be the head of the household.”
She finally looks up.
“What if this will ruin that?”
“What if I turn into, I don’t know, an opinionated shrew?”
Celia: “What, like Emily?” Amusement rather than judgement.
GM: “Emily’s… Emily’s not a shrew,” Diana says with a laugh. “Just… opinionated!”
Celia: “Mm. She’s strong-willed. You think Lucy would make you worse than that?”
GM: “I… maybe…?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just want someone to take care of me, Celia. I just want your father to take care of me. I feel like I’ve got him back. I want him back. So, so much.”
“And if this could ruin that, if there’s even a chance…”
Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, “there are things that don’t make a lot of sense to me about our family. There are nights and stories you’ve told me that don’t add up. Like everything with Ron, or why Maxen attacked you. I don’t know what Lucy will be like inside of you instead of in a doll. The only person who does know is the one who turned you into Grace. And wanting to take care of someone isn’t a bad thing. Having a spine isn’t a bad thing. You can love him and take care of him and still be strong. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
GM: “But. But your grandma didn’t love me, before I was…” Diana seems to search for words for a moment, “before she sent me there. I caused problems. I kept causing problems.”
Celia’s mom looks down again.
“Maybe she was right to.”
Celia: “Did you love yourself?”
“Because Grandma still doesn’t have a relationship with you now.”
“You can’t base your life on other people. You’ll only ever be disappointed.”
GM: “We don’t. I’m… I’m petty. I’m small.”
“I always feel like you and Emi are disappointed in me, in how… how weak I am.”
Celia: “I’m never disappointed in you. I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to see the brightness inside of yourself that I do. How strong you are to be through everything you’ve been through but you continue to love with all of your heart.”
“That’s strength, Momma. To go through Hell and back, twice, and come out as you did? Intact? That’s amazingly strong.”
GM: “I know. You’ve told me that before. But it always makes me feel good to hear.” Her mom smiles and gives her hand a squeeze.
“It’s, it’s the one area where I feel like I can tell Emily that she was wrong, but not in a mean way, of trying to put her down.”
“Of… of actually being able to show her a better way, teach her something. Like a mom should.”
“You remember how she wanted to abort Lucy. How she thought a ‘rape baby’ would just bring more grief into our lives.”
Celia: Celia looks away for a moment.
“Maybe it did. I was a rape baby too. But Lucy has brought you joy.”
“Stephen knows what she did to you. I asked him, you know, before things got rough between us… if he thought you could still love me, if Lucy were to rejoin you. And he said that no matter what she did to you, she couldn’t change the core of your being. That ‘happy, loving wife’ doesn’t have a script written into the code about adopting a college-aged daughter and loving her like her own. That’s you. Genuinely you. That’s who you are. And if Lucy gives you a bit of a mouth or temper, well, all the better for it.”
GM: “You have brought joy into my life, sweetie! Unimaginable joy!” Celia’s mom exclaims, hugging her. “Have there been some bad moments, has there been grief, yes, but that’s life. Lucy, ah, the other Lucy, hasn’t been perfect 100% of the time either. There’s no such thing as perfect. You just have to accept that whatever grief and pain there is will be outweighed by the joy.”
Celia: “Then that’s your answer with this Lucy, isn’t it?”
GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.
“Will… will things still be okay with us, if I get opinionated like Emi…?”
Celia: “I hope so. Maybe some growing pains, but nothing we can’t figure out.”
GM: “I just, I just don’t want to ruin what we have, Celia. Things were rough, after you, ah, told me what you were.”
Celia: “Do you think it will get rough?”
GM: “Maybe. That’s what I’m scared of. I don’t ever want us to go back to a place where you don’t want me as your mom. I always want to be your mom.”
Celia: “Then we’ll see how it goes. And we’ll navigate as things come up. Because I do want you as my mom. Always.” Celia squeezes her hand.
GM: Celia’s mom takes a breath and squeezes her hand back.
“Okay,” she repeats.
“Let’s… do it before I lose my nerve,” she says with a weak chuckle.
Celia: Celia silently offers her the doll.
GM: Diana gingerly takes Lucy into her arms. She looks at the doll, then back towards Celia.
“Is there… something I need to do…?”
Celia: She has no idea.
“Connect with her,” she says, “like you did last time. Heart to heart. There’s energy inside of all of us. Listen to her. She’ll speak to you, through you. Close your eyes if it’s supportive. Imagine yourself as you, Diana Flores, but only half of you. See your face in the mirror. It’s you, but not. Half of your reflection is gone. Feel the weight of Lucy in your arms. Feel the words she has for you. The time you spent apart. The longing. Who she was. Who you were, before you were Grace. Breathe it in. Breathe in Lucy, breathe in her courage and hope and love, breathe in her past, her happiness. Breathe out your fear. It supported you once, that fear, but not anymore. This is your missing half. A piece of you. She is you, and you have nothing to fear from yourself, only the unknown. Lucy will not hurt you. Bring her into you.”
GM: Diana closes her eyes.
Half of herself in the mirror.
That’s an odd mental image, but Celia can think back to another image of her mother in the mirror. A sweat-drenched and delirious-eyed Diana in a ballerina’s costume. Feeding tube down her throat, chains around her limbs, diaper visible below her tutu. Drawn smile plastered over her gag. Grace.
Perhaps her mom is thinking of it too. Diana gives a little shudder.
She holds the doll in her arms, like Celia says. Perhaps she also thinks back to who she was. Who was that? Maxen said she stole Grandma’s car and threatened her with a gun. She spat “Fuck you,” towards Key. That was the second time in her life that Celia heard her mother swear. She said she used to be tough. That she had to be tough, to make it in ballet.
“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. 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.”
Celia’s mother takes a long breath in.
Then a long breath out.
Then, after a moment, she hugs the doll against her chest.
Without fanfare or denouement, Lucy falls apart. Cracks run through the porcelain. Chunks and pieces spill over Diana’s lap. A brown slurry of sawdust, glue, cornstarch, resin, and wood flour runs over Diana’s dress. It leaves a mess on the bed. More composite runs off the covers and onto the floor. All that’s left of the doll are her clothes.
Celia’s mother blinks and stares at her lap.
Celia: Celia stares.
She hadn’t imagined it would be that easy. Last time it had been tough. Diana had hurt herself; she’d seen it in her face, in her eyes. Celia had expected something similar. A longer battle. A fight.
What had done it this time? Her earlier words about no longer being a doormat? Her determination to set her mother free? The instruction she’d given, the pieces of Lucy she’d gathered with her?
Who is this creature now?
The porcelain prison erupts, and Celia is almost afraid to find out who and what this new woman is. She keeps her hands to herself. They can clean the mess in a moment.
“…Mom?” she asks quietly.
GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t respond. Just stares at the mess and the tiny clothes on her lap.
After a moment, she gets up, sets the doll’s outfit on the bed, and wipes the mess off her dress.
Celia: “I’ll get the vacuum. New sheets. I can put these in the wash for you. Do you want to keep the dress…?”
GM: “I need my phone please, Celia.”
Celia: Celia logs out of her account and hands it over.
GM: Celia’s mother takes it, taps it several times, and holds it to her ear. Celia hears the call app ring until it goes to voicemail.
“Hi, Viv? This is Diana. I have a potentially really big case for you. Please let me know when we can meet to talk about it. Thanks!”
Celia’s mom taps again to end the call and sets the phone down on her bedside table.
She wipes her hands along her dress again, then walks out of the room, heels clicking against the floor.
Celia: Mutely, Celia trails after her.
She wonders what sort of mistake she’s just made.
If it’s a mistake.
GM: Celia’s mom walks back into the living room. Maxen looks like he’s dozed off. Emily is still watching him like a hawk. Diana gently shakes him awake.
“Do you remember what you said after you hit me with the dinner plate?”
Celia: Celia stands in the doorway leading to the hall, one arm crossed over her stomach. She doesn’t take her eyes off of her mother.
GM: Celia’s father blinks slowly as he wakes from his doze.
“I’m sorry, Diana?”
“Well, you said a lot of things,” Celia’s mom continues. “But to reply to one of them, seven years late, dance teaches children muscle coordination, teamwork, appreciation for the arts, and a whole lot of other things that have personal and societal benefits. Their brains expand and develop new neural pathways as they try new things and master new skills. It’s the same reason we teach literature to children who won’t become writers, P.E. to children who won’t become athletes, or biology to children who won’t become scientists. It’s to help them grow as people, not train them to become professionals in those fields. Maybe they will decide to, from what they learn in school, or maybe it’ll just make them better-rounded people. That’s what teaching children does, gives them choices and rounds them out as people. Most of my students won’t choose to work as professional dancers, but they’ll all benefit from knowing how to dance at weddings and parties. Also specifically to me, I try to make my classroom a happy space where kids can relax, unwind, and switch mental gears in an academically rigorous school, knowing they’ll get an easy ‘A’ and only need to think about having fun. It makes their days better and helps them succeed at other schoolwork. I have had a lot of girls come to me for help with personal problems, confide in me, or just tell me they love my class and that I’m their favorite teacher. I make a positive difference in their lives.”
Maxen looks somewhat confused, but nods. “You do make a positive difference in their lives. Your job has great v-”
“That’s not what you said seven years ago,” Celia’s mom interrupts. “You said I’d wasted my life on a completely valueless pursuit. That it was worthless. You told me that before you raped me. My job is not valueless. It has great value.”
Celia: Celia glances at Emily.
GM: Emily looks like she’s wondering if she’s dreaming.
Celia: She doesn’t interrupt.
GM: Celia’s mom walks up to the closet. “I suppose this seems a little non sequitur, but, fudge, I’ve wanted to refute that for seven years now. I got more than enough ‘dance is worthless’ talk from my mother before you.”
“Better late than never,” says Maxen. “You’re right, though. I was wrong. Your career has great value.”
Diana retrieves her ex’s coat.
He accepts the coat. “Would you like me to leave?”
“Yes,” answers Celia’s mom. “But there are several things first. The first is alimony.”
“Yes. You never paid me alimony after our separation. Just child support. Alimony would have made a big difference in my life. Celia, do you want to tell your father what my old apartment was like?”
“I know he never saw it for himself.”
Celia: Celia speaks up for the first time.
“It was, well, awful. Crummy. She printed out photos from our Facemash profiles because she had none of her own, because nothing was saved. The carpet was threadbare. Holes in the walls. I saw a rat on my way in once. The electrical box blew a fuse a few times, so we never knew if we’d have electricity over dinner. Couldn’t run the toaster and the space heater at the same time. Shared bathroom with everyone else on the floor, where someone OD’d one night. Cracked tiles on the kitchen floor. Slum lords ran it, said they’d fix it but they never did.”
“Pretty sure the insulation went out of it years before she moved in.”
GM: “Sounds like a total shithole,” says Emily.
Celia: “There’s a reason I never took you there,” Celia says with a nod.
GM: “Yes, I was always ashamed to have you over,” Diana says to Celia. “But I was afraid of being seen if I came to Tulane, and couldn’t afford to eat out at restaurants until the collections agency stopped garnishing my wages.”
“That sounds terrible, Diana,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I put you through that. Overdue alimony sounds more than fair.”
“No, it’s less than fair,” says Celia’s mom. “The next thing I want from you is a separate financial settlement to redress the physical, emotional, and financial hardship you’ve put me through over the course of my life. I had to declare bankruptcy to get out of the medical debt I accrued after you illegally dropped me from our insurance plan. It’s still impacting my credit score.”
“Celia, do you want a financial settlement from your father?”
“Emily, I’d ask if you do too, but you luckily only got to hear about the abuse secondhand.”
Celia: That’s a loaded question. Does she want anything from her father? Anything that might tie her to him? Anything that might piss off her sire when he finds out that Diana is no longer a doormat?
Your own money, the plastic man says, and Celia swallows at all of the images it brings up. She’d never told her mom. Never told her dad. Never told Emily. To bring it up now… god, what will they think of her?
Is money really going to make her happy?
“For the abuse? Pain and suffering? The college fund he revoked when I dropped from Tulane?”
Her death. Her literal death.
GM: “Yes,” says her mom. “For physical and emotional hardship. Financial hardship may be harder to argue, but Viv will have a better idea there.”
Celia: It’s not going to bring her back to life. Not going to undo the years of trauma, or the triggering way words hit her now. She shrugs.
Her sire might kill her.
GM: Celia’s mom nods and turns back to her ex.
“You’ve given me some things already. Emily’s birth certificate. The various ballet memory mementos, though I’m honestly not sure if I still want those. I don’t consider any of those things gifts. They are down payments on a debt still owed. My lawyer will be in talks with yours to determine how much that is. I also don’t want those treatments you mentioned at Texas Medical Center.”
“What about your leg?” asks Maxen, eyebrows raised.
“I’m looking into alternatives.”
Celia’s mom continues, “In 2009, Maxen, you beat our daughter until she could not sit without pain. She broke her arm fleeing your house. You also kidnapped me, beat me, raped me, and sawed off my toes. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on criminally prosecuting those things has expired, which doesn’t feel right, considering I’m still on pain meds for even older injuries. I may or may not be able to win a civil suit against you, since money plays such a big role in how those play out, but I’m darn sure I can cost you the election if I approach Bill Roberts with all the sordid details of what happened.”
“If you try to skimp out on what you owe us.”
Celia: There’s that fire. There’s the woman that Celia has wanted. There’s the strength hidden behind the meekness, the mother bear who will fight tooth and nail to protect what’s hers.
Celia’s heart swells with pride.
GM: “I see,” says Maxen. “I certainly don’t want to fight you, Diana. I don’t want to cause more hurt among this family. I will need to talk to a lawyer before otherwise deciding how to proceed.”
Celia: A lawyer, or his friend in the shadows? Celia searches his face for the truth.
For the second time this evening she finds it hidden from her. But she will protect her mother this time, no matter what comes.
GM: “You do that,” says Diana. “I’d like you to do that very much, in fact. I want all of our future contact to be through lawyers.”
“Because the next thing I want is for you to permanently cease all contact with me, Lucy, and Emily. And Celia, if she also wants that. You will go through my attorney to help find Isabel. Attorneys are good for that, too.”
“I’ll honor your wishes if that’s what you want, Diana,” says Maxen as he puts on his coat. “Are you sure it’s what you want?”
“Yes and no,” Celia’s mom answers. “I’m not sure whether you’ve changed. I think if you have changed, forgiving you is the sort of thing Jesus would do. And I like to think I could do that. But I’m not sure if you have changed.”
“You don’t have to believe me, Diana. You don’t have to give me a chance, either. It’s up to you if you want to do that.”
Celia’s mom shakes her head. “No. It’s not. This is about our granddaughter, not just me. I am her legal guardian. I am responsible for her welfare. And I cannot take the chance, by inviting you back into our lives, that you will abuse her like you abused our children.”
“If you have any contact with Lucy, I will go to Bill Roberts. I will tell him everything.”
Celia: “There’s one more thing, Dad.” Celia says, taking a step forward. “This will stay between our family and the lawyers.” She meets his eye. “No outside parties.”
“Mom wants to forgive you. Prove you’ve changed. Play by her rules, and maybe there’s a happily ever after for the two of you, if that’s what you both want.”
GM: “No.” Diana crosses her arms and shakes her head. “The ending to our story is right here. Right now. I will not ever take the chance that he is going to abuse Lucy.”
“I will find another man to marry and be the father figure that she needs.”
Celia: Good for her.
It’s about goddamned time.
GM: “And I’ll raise her alone if I can’t find a man.”
“Not alone,” says Emily, wrapping an arm around Diana’s shoulder.
Celia: “Never alone.” Celia takes the other side.
GM: Maxen is quiet for a moment. His eyes silently roam his daughter’s, Emily’s, and ex-wife’s face.
The foot shorter woman folds her arms and stares up at him.
“I will respect all of your wishes,” he says. “This will stay between family and attorneys.”
Celia: Celia is not sure she believes him, but she nods all the same.
GM: Emily walks off to open the front door.
Maxen follows after her and turns when he’s at the door.
“Good night, Diana. Celia. Emily.”
Celia: “Good night, Dad.”
GM: “Goodbye, Maxen,” says Celia’s mom.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
GM: Diana closes the door after her ex-husband leaves. She waits and stares through the window until his car drives off.
Celia: Celia looks back to her mother once he is gone. For the first time since she began speaking to him there is doubt in her eyes. Is she next? She stands alone, apart from Emily, and waits for what might come.
GM: “…what the fuck just happened,” says Emily.
“Who are you and what have you done with our mom.”
Celia: Celia smiles at her sister.
GM: “Seriously,” Emily repeats. “I’ll, uh, dance with joy and probably cry once the initial shock wears off. But seriously, what the fuck just happened?”
Celia: Celia looks back to her mother, pride in her eyes. She lifts her brows a fraction of an inch, as if asking if Diana wants to explain, or if Celia should tackle this one.
GM: Her mother nods towards her.
Celia: “All of it?” she asks.
GM: “I think there are a lot of decisions I should’ve made for myself over the years, Celia,” says her mom. “There are a lot of decisions I do intend to make for myself going forward.”
“But here I’m going to trust your judgment.”
“Okay, all of what?” says Emily.
Celia: Celia turns to look at her sister.
“We’ve trusted you with a lot of things over the years. Like my real dad. And Lucy. Life and death things. You’ve never let us down. You’ve never told anyone anything.”
She takes a breath she doesn’t need.
“This is another one of those things. Something you can’t tell. Ever. Life and death. Okay?”
GM: Emily nods.
“Absolutely. Life and death. I get it. I won’t even tell Robby if you don’t want me to.”
“How about we sit back down?” suggests Diana.
Emily nods and follows her back to the couch.
She turns to regard Celia somberly once they’re seated.
Celia: “Maybe a bottle of wine,” Celia suggests with a wry smile. She doesn’t sit, waiting until Emily and her mother have done so to begin.
“You can’t tell Robby. No one.”
GM: “No one,” repeats Emily.
“I haven’t told him about your dad or Lucy. I don’t talk about those things with anyone but you two.”
Celia: Celia nods. She smiles.
“You maybe noticed that I’m not around during the day. That I have excuses as to why not. All sorts of excuses. That I don’t eat. That I’m not at work, despite what I claim.”
She tilts her head to the side.
“Have you wondered why?”
GM: Emily’s silent for a moment.
“And there’s been other things too.”
Celia: Celia nods again.
“There’s not really an easy way to say this. So I’m just going to.”
A slight pause. She meets Emily’s eyes.
“I’m a vampire.”
GM: Emily looks at her for a moment, then laughs.
“Okay. I’m a werewolf.”
Celia: “Loup-Garoux,” Celia supplies. Then she’s gone, and on the floor where she was standing is a gray cat.
GM: Emily’s mouth falls open.
Celia: Luna meows at her, stalking forward to rub her face against Diana’s legs, back arching for the scratches she knows are coming.
GM: “Oh, who’s the best kitty,” Celia’s mom murmurs. The pets and scratches come, in ample measure. Scratches behind the ears. Pets along the back.
But Diana’s eyes don’t leave Emily’s face.
Celia: Luna half-closes her eyes in contentment, though they, too, remain fixed on Emily even as she purrs.
GM: “I’m fucking on something,” Emily says dumbly.
“This whole evening. This whole evening has been insane.”
“You don’t do drugs, Emily,” says Diana. As if reminding her.
Celia: Luna lingers for a moment before scooting away, releasing the cat form so that Celia the girl is once more present in the room.
GM: “Celia did not just turn into a c…” Emily starts, then shuts up the minute she sees the transformation repeat.
For a moment, all she can is stare. Her eyes are huge.
“How the fuck did you do that!?”
Celia: “We call it shifting. Mutatio, if you’re old school.”
GM: “This is a spoof. This is a trick. There’s, there’s technology, digital effects. You’re… this is a joke. I’m the joke.”
Diana shakes her head.
“She can do other things too, sweetie.”
Celia: Celia nods. She opens her mouth and shows her fangs, but she keeps her distance.
“Not all of them are as flashy as turning into a cat,” she acknowledges with a smile.
GM: Emily stares again, then walks up and feels the canines with her fingers.
Celia: Celia holds very, very still for her.
GM: Emily pulls out her phone, turns on its flashlight, and shines it in Celia’s mouth.
She peers very close.
Celia: Celia lets her take her time. She wouldn’t believe it, either.
GM: She inspects the fangs for a long while, then puts the tip of her index and long fingers in the groove of Celia’s neck along her windpipe to feel for a pulse in the carotid artery.
Celia: For the first time in a long time, Celia stops her pulse.
GM: Emily places the tips of her index and middle fingers on the inside of Celia’s wrist below the base of her thumb, then presses lightly.
Celia: There’s nothing to feel.
Without the blood circulating through her body, her skin starts to cool.
It takes on the waxy, ashen appearance of so many other walking dead.
GM: “Quash ball under the armpit. Pressure to the right spot under the arm can cut off the pulse distal to that location,” Emily says dumbly, still feeling for the pulse that isn’t there.
“There’s no quash ball, sweetie,” Diana says gently.
Her face stills a bit, though, as she watches the life all but literally leave Celia.
Celia: Celia tries not to let it get to her. She looks away, waiting for Emily to cease her examination.
GM: Diana walks over and hugs an arm around Celia.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re still my daughter.”
Celia: “I know,” she says quietly, “I just don’t like being seen like this. It took a lot of work to put myself back together.”
“It’s hard to… to know what I look like when I stop pretending.”
GM: “You look like death,” says Emily.
“You looked just like this after Maxen raped Mom.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“Yeah. That’s when it happened.”
GM: “There are tests. More tests we could perform at the hospital.”
Celia: “No hospitals, Emily.”
“I’m dead. I died in 2009. And I’m walking around. I drink blood. I turn into animals. I am very fast.”
“Can I show you?” She nods towards Emily’s arm.
GM: “Show me… that you drink blood?” says Emily slowly.
Celia: Celia shrugs. “I was going to bite without drinking, so you could feel it, and then mend it. I wouldn’t take from you without your permission.”
GM: “Those… teeth look pretty capable of puncturing,” Emily repeats in the same slow tone.
“What do you mean, mend it?”
Celia: “You’d notice if people walked around with holes in their body. We can fix it after we feed.”
GM: “Maybe you could demonstrate on me first,” says Diana, extending Celia her arm.
Celia: Celia nods. She takes a step towards Diana, lifting her arm to her mouth. Fangs poke out from behind her lips. Gently, Celia punctures the skin. She doesn’t drink, instead pulling away to show Emily the holes, to let her feel them if such is her desire.
GM: The coppery smell of Diana’s blood is positively intoxicating. So is that tantalizing hint of taste. She has yet to sample another vessel as luscious as her mother.
Emily feels the fang marks. She looks at them very closely.
“Shit. These aren’t good. You’re going to have scarring.”
Diana shakes her head.
Celia: Slowly, letting Emily observe, Celia closes the holes with her tongue.
GM: “…how the fuck?” starts Emily.
“Can you do that to all wounds? Seal them by licking them?”
“You’d revolutionize ER medicine!”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. “Not all wounds, no.”
GM: There’s finally a look of something other than shock in Emily’s eyes.
“What’s the limit, then?”
Celia: “Tiny,” Celia says, “what we create to feed.”
GM: “So what if someone stabbed you with a needle?”
“Or a historic stiletto?”
“Thanks, Robby, I know they’re not just shoes.”
Their mom smiles at the quip.
Celia: “Mm, that’s different. I mend on my own. With blood.”
“It’s… it’s not a miracle cure-all, Em.”
GM: “What do you mean, with blood?”
Celia: “I mean my body repairs itself when I feed.”
“It takes blood. Juice, sometimes we call it.”
GM: “Can you demonstrate that?”
Diana looks like she knows the answer to that question.
Celia: “Ah… I could, but I’d need to feed. I’m actually supposed to meet a friend to hunt…” Celia trails off.
GM: “Another… person like you?” asks Emily.
Celia: “Similar, yes.”
GM: “Another vampire?”
Celia: “Half-vampire, technically. Thin-blooded.”
“…do you want to come?”
GM: “…see you feed?”
Celia: “Meet my friend.”
GM: “Uh.” Emily seems to go through a hundred questions, then settle on, “I thought this was supposed to be just us?”
“How many vampires are there?”
Celia: “Um. A lot.”
“Some cities have more than others. New Orleans is pretty crowded.”
GM: “How crowded is crowded?” asks Diana, curiously.
“You don’t know?” asks Emily.
She frowns in thought.
“…are you a vampire, too?”
Her mom smiles. “No, I’m not.”
“And no, I don’t know. Celia only told me about this pretty recently.”
“The shirt,” says Emily.
“Sorry?” asks Diana.
“You came home in a Flawless tee,” says Emily.
“You said you’d spilled coffee on your blouse.”
“But I was doing the laundry. I didn’t see it.”
“And why would you be drinking coffee at Flawless anyway.”
“Ah. I had a longer fib prepared, but I was going to save it for if you asked me,” says Diana.
“Well, I probably would’ve,” says Emily. “But the blouse being missing.”
“It felt funny. And it wasn’t the first odd thing.”
“What happened to the blouse, anyway?”
“I threw it out,” says Diana. “There was blood on it. Couldn’t get it out.”
“Did you really suspect something was up this whole time?”
“I wasn’t sure,” says Emily. “Didn’t seem worth confronting about, by itself.”
“I figured I’d just wait and watch.”
“The cats,” she then says, looking at Celia.
“They absolutely hate you.”
Celia: “Yeah. They detect the predator in me. Most animals will.”
GM: “Are you actually… harmful, I guess, to cats?”
Celia: “No. Not usually. I don’t eat animals.”
GM: “Well, I’m sorry,” says Emily. “They’re normally total love-balls. Both of them.”
“Can you drink from animals?” asks Diana.
“Is that the, ah, ‘vegetarian’ option for vampires?”
Celia: Celia gives a vague nod.
“Yeah. I can. It doesn’t do much for me. Not very satisfying. Some of us do it more often, but I prefer not to. It’s just… like eating O’Tolley’s instead of the steak mom made tonight.”
GM: “You ate that,” says Emily.
“But you give away tons of her food at Flawless.”
“I see the others with it.”
“Or Randy with it.”
She pauses for a moment.
“Do you kill people?”
“She doesn’t need to kill people to drink from them,” says Diana.
“We might as well be honest about it. I let her drink from me.”
“Oh,” says Emily.
“How, uh… how does it work?”
Celia: “As she said, I don’t need to kill to feed. Most people get woozy. They take a day or two to recover. I see Mom most nights for, ah, dessert. Most of us don’t taste real food anymore. It’s… well, quite gross, honestly, which is why I made up all the stories I did about various fad diets.”
GM: “…those were so annoying,” says Emily.
Celia: Celia grins. “Yeah, for me too.”
“We throw it up, though. The food.”
“So we don’t usually bother, unless it’s to maintain a facade.”
GM: “Oh, do you need to go now?” asks her mom.
Celia: Celia shakes her head. “No, I’m okay right now.”
GM: “Wait a second,” says Emily. “You didn’t have a pulse. Are you clinically dead in every way? Do you still produce stomach acids? Do you actually digest the food?”
“No stomach acid. No digestion.”
“It comes out more or less intact.”
GM: “So, the food would just be… chewed up food.”
“I’d actually like to see this. If it has to come out anyway.”
Celia: “Uh… yeah, sure, I guess. To the, er, bathroom then?”
GM: “You might as well put it in the compost, sweetie, if it’s intact.”
Diana gets up, retrieves the compost bin, and brings it back to the living room.
“Figured this might feel better when you’re sitting down.”
“Though you did say holding even uncomfortable positions wouldn’t hurt?”
“Wait, actually. I don’t want to see it get mixed with the rest of the food,” says Emily.
She gets up, goes to the kitchen, and retrieves another green compost bag.
“Do you feel like we’re putting you on the spot, sweetie?” her mom asks concernedly.
She remembers how much Paul enjoyed the sight of her vomiting.
Celia: Celia nods. “Doesn’t hurt. But, ah, here goes… well, here goes.”
She rises, leaning over the new compost bag. It’s not the same as it used to be, vomiting from her old stomach. Her real stomach. The reflexes aren’t quite there. But the muscle control is, and it takes only a second for her to find the foreign objects in her stomach—
And expel them.
Steak, potato, vegetable. Everything she’d taken a bite of at dinner comes up from where she’d stored it, rising up her throat in tiny chunks of chewed food to land with wet plops into the waiting green bag.
GM: Emily takes the bag and looks into it.
She sticks her head half-inside.
“Emily!” says their mom.
“It doesn’t smell,” says Emily.
She pulls her head out.
“Like vomit, anyways.”
“It’s completely undigested.”
Celia: “Pretty lame, so far as party tricks.”
GM: “I can’t believe you stuck your head in that,” Diana mutters.
“I’ve cut up corpses, Mom. This is little league stuff.”
Celia: Celia smirks into her hand.
GM: “Might be a lame party trick, but honestly, this is one of the more convincing pieces of… evidence I’ve seen,” says Emily, dropping the bag into the larger one.
Celia: “So. Not to rush you guys. But I do actually have to meet my friend to hunt, and I have a thing later to attend. Can’t be late. Emily, are we… like we’re cool, right?”
“I mean, obviously there’s a lot to talk about…”
GM: “Uh, yeah, I kind of have a million and one questions.”
Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah. There’s a lot I want to tell you.”
GM: “I can tell you some things, until she gets back,” says Diana.
“They’re probably a lot of the same questions I had.”
“Though I’m not an expert on this stuff. I’ve only known for… what, a week now?”
Celia: “About that, yes.”
GM: “Can you reschedule with your friend?” says Emily. “This is… kind of a big moment here, learning that… Jesus, I can still barely say it.”
Celia: Celia winces. She checks the time.
GM: She needs to get going in a few minutes if she wants time to hunt before church.
Celia: “I blew her off last night because of some things that happened, and she’s really important to me. She’s new to all of this, and she’s not… she’s not really able to take care of herself yet. I mean, if you want to donate to the cause, I can have her come here instead, but you won’t be on the ball tomorrow.”
GM: “Excuse me, I’m also really important to you, last I checked. You can’t just dump something like this on me and bail!” Emily declares offendedly.
“And what the fuck happened with Mom?”
Celia: Celia levels a look at her mother.
“Do you want to take that one and I’ll call her?”
GM: “Honestly, sweetie, I’m not sure what happened either,” says Diana. “Is this friend the same one I know about?”
GM: “Okay. Why don’t you just tell her to meet you in an hour or two? I’m pretty sure that won’t conflict with her plans.”
Celia: “My plans. I have a meeting tonight. Court. I can’t miss it. I’ve bailed on the last few.”
GM: “Court?” Diana asks.
Celia: “Court. Mass, news, all sorts of stuff. Kind of a big night for me tonight.”
GM: “Well I think this might be the biggest night of my life to learn that vampires are apparently real!” declares Emily.
Celia: “They’ll still be real tomorrow, too. Or after mass.”
GM: “What happens if you miss court?” asks her mom.
Celia: “Physically? Nothing. Unless the hounds pick me up again for failing to deliver. I kind of don’t want to be on the end of a saw blade again in another interrogation room, which is why I’d like to be there.”
GM: “Wait, what the fuck?” says Emily.
“Okay, so you think your safety is at risk if you don’t attend,” says Diana.
Celia: “Long story,” Celia says, “but I’ll tell you about it after mass. I’ll move my later plans.”
“So I’ll have until, like, four.”
GM: “How long is mass?” asks her mom.
Celia: “Hour or two.”
GM: “Okay,” she says. “If you think your safety will be at risk, if you don’t go, then we are the ones who need to be flexible here. An hour or two to wait won’t kill us.”
Celia: Celia nods. “I’m sorry. I know you have questions. This probably could have waited until tomorrow. Why don’t you spend some time figuring out what all you want to ask, and I’ll come right back here after court, and then I don’t need to head out again until later.”
“And I’ll set aside a chunk of time tomorrow for you.”
GM: “Okay, that sounds fair,” nods Emily.
“Yes, it does,” says Diana. “There are some things I want to talk about with you, too. Emi, I can also spend until then answering what questions you have.”
“Like I said, not an expert, but I’ll fill in what I can.”
Celia: “Thank you for understanding, Mom. And you, Emi.”
GM: “This had to happen on a school night,” Emily says dryly.
“I don’t see how I’m falling asleep now.”
Celia: “Call off.”
“Or let me have a sip and you’ll nod right off.” Celia winks.
GM: “Uh. How much do you usually take?”
Emily doesn’t sound sure how she feels about that.
Celia: “Not much. A pint. Not enough to do anything but make you a little drowsy, less on the ball tomorrow. Usually recover in a day. Mom does faster. Think it’s that giving nature of hers.”
GM: “Do you want me to give you blood?” asks Emily. “Since you do with Mom?”
Celia: “No. I mean, I’m curious about what it’d be like, but I only take from Mom so often because of how quickly she recovers. If it were to actually harm her?” Celia shakes her head. “No. Maybe in an emergency. But I have a good block of domain. I don’t often go hungry.”
GM: “Domain?” asks Emily.
Celia: “Turf. Places I can feed.” She rises.
GM: “Okay, two questions. How much do you need and what happens when you don’t get it?”
“Do you starve to death like…” she seems to search for a word, “non-vampires?”
Celia: “No. I enter a state of hibernation and slowly decay until I’m fed again.”
“And I can keep the same amount of blood in my body as you. Less than half and I’m hungry. I get… feral.”
GM: “Feral?” asks Emily.
“I think Celia needs to head out right now,” says their mom. She gives a smile. “She’ll still be a vampire when she’s back, I’m sure.”
Celia: Celia smiles with her mother. “Yes, I will be. I’ll answer more of your questions then. Please, Emi, I’m trusting you not to tell anyone. At all. We’re all in trouble if you do.”
GM: “I won’t,” nods Emily. “This would…. Jesus.”
“How does something like this even stay secret?”
Celia: “People who find out disappear.”
GM: “You said there’s a lot of vampires.”
“And they’re probably telling their families too.”
Celia: “No. Most of them don’t keep families.”
“I have… things I can do to appear mortal. Others don’t. They stage their own deaths.” Celia glances at the clock. “I’m going to head out. I love you both. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
GM: Her mom gets up and hugs her.
“I love you too, sweetie. More than I can ever say in words. I meant to say this before things came up with Emi, but… thank you. Thank you for pushing me to be brave. Thank you for pushing me to take a chance.”
“And thank you for being brave and taking a chance yourself.”
Celia: Celia all but envelopes her mother in a hug.
“Thank you for loving me, even like this. Thank you for trusting me. I’m so proud of you, Mom. I love you. So much.”
GM: “I love you guys too,” says Emily, standing up to hug them both. “Whatever happened, whatever this was… this was something good. I know that. Something incredible. Just, Jesus, Mom, watching you tell Maxen to fuck off like that…”
Emily breaks off for a moment. Her voice is choked, like she might be crying.
“I don’t even know what to say. So I’ll just, just say. Like Celia. I’m so proud of you. So, so proud. You were am… amazi…”
There is no ‘might’. Emily is full-on crying now.
Celia: Celia brings Emily into the hug, holding both of these amazing, incredible women close to her.
“I love you, Emi. I’m so happy you’re in my life, that we’re in yours. There’s so much… just so much good with you, and Mom, and… just… I just… I love you, Emi, I love you.”
GM: Emily makes some more choked noises that sound like agreement. She is smiling, past the tears. Celia makes out another “love you”, too.
Diana smiles, closes her eyes, and just holds her daughters close.
Celia: It isn’t how she’d expected her night to go. But now, more than ever, Celia is proud and glad to have these two women in her life.
Giving up the rest of her friends and allies and loved ones is scary. But she knows that her family will see her through.
Against that, the night doesn’t seem so dark and hopeless anymore.