“Like, our whole family hates each other. What happened to us?”
Monday evening, 7 March 2016
GM: Jade comes back to work the next night with a full head of new hair. Her first client is Celia’s mom.
The older woman hasn’t brought along Lucy and has a fretful look on her face in the Tranquility Room. She puts on a smile when she gets up and moves to hug Celia.
“Hi, sweetie… how you feelin’ tonight?”
“I brought some of those biscuits with chocolate gravy, by the way. Lucy helped make some more and would just love to know what you think of them.”
Celia: Celia hadn’t realized her mother was coming in so soon after her last appointment. She would have had Alana cancel the appointment if she had known. She has a meeting to prepare for. An evening to forget. A wayward ghoul to deal with.
It isn’t until she’s staring at her mother across the room that the awkward dinner conversation comes back to her. She has the grace to look away for a moment, though she lets the woman hug her.
She’s not a monster.
“I’m great, Momma. How’re you? How’s Em?” Her voice is all fake cheer.
They can just pretend last night didn’t happen.
GM: Celia is positive that her mother didn’t have an appointment pre-scheduled for tonight.
But she was also the one to say her mom could schedule appointments anytime she liked. $100,000 bought that much.
“We’re both great too, thanks so much for askin’,” her mom smiles back. “Would you like to munch on some biscuits while you work? I don’t mind, I know you’ll do an amazing job with those magic hands of yours either way.”
“Oh, and I’m going to tip you today, plus cover the product fee,” she adds. “It hasn’t been a week since I last came in, after all, and today isn’t my monthly hair stylin’ either.”
Her smile is full of equally plaintive desire for things to be back to normal.
Celia: “No, thank you. I can’t have food products in the rooms. It sets a bad precedent for my staff. And, please, you don’t need to worry about the fee. Spend it on Lucy.”
GM: “Oh, that’s true. Okay, I can leave them with Landen if he’s all done with clients, I bet his day could use some more chocolate in it. And Natalie and Piper, if Piper’s still around.”
Celia: “I’m sure they’d appreciate that, Momma. Why don’t you get situated and I’ll deliver them to the front desk for you.”
GM: “Oh, they, that’s right. I’m sorry, sweetie, it’s just really hard to wrap my head around those pronouns,” her mom apologizes.
Celia: “I meant ‘they’ as in all three of them,” Celia clarifies. “But go hop up on the table, I’ll be right with you.”
GM: “Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Her mom touches her arm and gives her another slightly plaintive smile before heading off.
Celia: Celia waits until her back is turned before she makes a beeline for the front desk, where she hopes Alana is working. If not there it’s possible the ghoul is in the small office upstairs, but she checks the desk first.
GM: Natalie is there to take the cookies. She finds Alana upstairs in her office.
“Mistress?” she asks as Celia comes in.
Celia: “I’ll be occupied for the next hour. Find a vessel for me. Someone without drugs in their system.” There’s no need to repeat the mistakes of last night.
GM: “Right away, mistress,” Alana nods, rising immediately.
Celia: Celia flashes her ghoul a smile of appreciation. She returns downstairs, to the room she had sent her mother to. She knocks before entering, common courtesy in the spa, and shuts the door behind her.
“What’re we in for today, Momma? Just had a massage last week. Skin is looking good. Lashes? Or did you make the appointment as an excuse to talk?” Her tone is wry.
GM: Her mom gives another, somewhat sheepish smile.
“…how about you do my lashes, sweetie. Or, really, whatever you think best. You know I’m play-doh in your hands.”
Celia: “Looking a little blonde,” Celia says after examining them beneath the light. “They’ve grown out since the last lift and tint we did.” The timing is about right, too. They don’t generally do the extensions on her unless it’s for special occasions, but her mother has a pretty strict regiment now that she comes to see Celia regularly. Facials twice a month, one with chemical peels and dermaplaning, massage twice per month unless her leg is acting up, then they swap out the facial for more bodywork. Every six weeks it’s lashes and waxing, and she occasionally opts for the body wraps, peels, and steam showers as well.
Celia gathers the required tools: the lash shields, bottles of tint, rod glue, cream developer, mixing tray, brush, wands, tape, and eye pads. She sets them on the cart, laid out in order of use, and sits down to begin to clean her mothers lashes with a squirt of foam from a pump bottle onto two clean applicators. They’re actually used for lip gloss, but they make great lash cleaners as well, so Celia orders them in bulk, thousands of black stick doe foot applicators at a time.
She could start the conversation. Let her mother know she doesn’t need to mince words. Bring up the lies she’d told last night.
Or she could let her mother do it.
GM: “That’s right. Want to keep the hair blonde, not the lashes,” her mom chuckles. It’s a bit of a lame joke. And not really a joke.
“How are you and Randy doing?” she asks as Celia starts on her lashes.
Celia: Celia is polite enough to laugh along with her mom. She’s definitely heard worse jokes. As soon as her mother’s lashes are clean she tells her to open her eyes, then puts a gel eye pad down beneath her lower lash line. She has her mom look up, toward her, and tapes down her lower lashes so they don’t get an accidental perm. Then she can close her eyes again, and the real work begins.
A lash lift is like a perm for your eye lashes. It doesn’t lengthen them but it does add a nice curl, and it usually lasts anywhere from four to six weeks. Until the lashes grow out again. The first step is putting down the right shields. Some stylists use the same shield for every client, but Celia isn’t “some stylist.” She’s Celia Flores. She takes more than the length of the lashes into consideration when picking the shield: she looks at the shape of the eye itself. The hood, or lack thereof. At this point in her life Diana’s eyes would benefit from a lift themselves. She has less wrinkles than most women her age, but nothing can keep the enemy of time at bay forever.
She uses a small bottle of rod glue to adhere the shield to her mother’s lids, sliding it down until it is flush against the lash line.
“We’re okay. He was disappointed that he didn’t get any of the cookies last night. I’ll have to save him some.”
GM: Celia’s mom keeps her eyelids closed. She doesn’t feel tense as the shield goes on. She knows the routine, after seven years of weekly visits. Like she says. Play-doh in her daughter’s hands.
“Oh, he doesn’t have to worry a bit, then. These are exact same ones. I’ve included lots of chocolate gravy, too, so he won’t miss out on a thing.”
Celia: “I gotta be honest, Ma, when you call it ‘gravy’ it sounds decidedly unappealing.”
GM: Her mom chuckles. “I didn’t come up with the name, sweetie, that’s just what it is. They call it gravy because biscuits go with gravy like peas in a pod.”
“And, you know, it isn’t strictly chocolate. What it mainly has is cocoa powder. Most of the sugar comes from regular ol’ white sugar and vanilla.”
Celia: “It’s powder rather than melted chocolate and cream? I’d assumed it was just a fancy ganache, if I’m being honest.”
GM: “Oh no, this is somethin’ else. It’s also got milk, plus some flour to give it a slightly thick consistency.”
“So it’s like gravy, if someone just swapped out all the savory ingredients for sweet ones.”
She hasn’t kept up much with cooking since she died.
GM: “You can also add a few pinches of salt. It’s been a hit with Lucy and Emily, I hadn’t made it in a pretty long while. It’s classic Southern comfort.”
Celia: Once the shields are set Celia focuses on the next part: gluing the lashes down. There’s an adhesive she applies to one shield at a time. Then, with a special metal hooked tool that is reminiscent of tweezers, she lifts each individual eyelash onto the glue to hold them in place. She does one eye, then the other, until her mother’s lashes are all adhered to the shields and the shields to the lids.
It looks, in a word, a little wonky. Every time Celia did this in school she couldn’t help but laugh.
GM: “This part always looks so funny to you, I bet,” her mom chuckles.
She pauses, then ventures, “You’re sure things are okay with you and Randy, sweetie?”
“You seemed a little blue, last night.”
Celia: Celia sighs. She really hadn’t wanted to have this conversation. She focuses on what she’s doing for a moment, and swipes the first part of the perm onto her mother’s upturned lashes. It’s got a bit of a sulfurous smell, though the fan that Celia clicks on does its job in keeping the worst of it away. Just a thin blue coat goes on, then Celia sets a timer to let it process.
Lash lifts are pretty hands off once the lashes are all glued into place.
“I’m a little disappointed in him,” Celia says honestly. “But that’s not the problem. I was off yesterday. My Sunday, as you know.” Celia refers to certain days as her “weekends,” even when they aren’t, to represent the days she does work. “So I had a few drinks prior to coming over. I said something jokingly to Emily and I guess she took it the wrong way.”
It’s easier, she thinks, to claim to be drinking instead of anything else.
And technically not a lie.
Since she had been drinking.
GM: “She just wants things to turn out for the best with you and Randy, sweetie. She loves you very much.”
“Can I ask what he’s done, to make you disappointed? Is it not poppin’ a ring yet?”
Celia: “He doesn’t listen.” She doesn’t need to fake the way her voice raises into a whine. “I don’t want to have to yell at him to get him to do what I want, but that’s what I feel like I need to resort to, and I don’t want to be that person. A nag. You know? Like, why can’t he just… do it right the first time?”
GM: “Oh.” Celia’s mom is quiet for a moment. “Did he pop the question on you, just… in a less than thoughtful way?”
“Emily told me this story recently, about a man who proposed to his girlfriend in an O’Tolley’s drive-thru. Because they’d go there all the time, and really loved the food—heaven knows why—so he thought it would be romantic to get the staff there to slip the ring in her burger. And she just broke down crying instead, because what girl wants to be proposed to in an O’Tolley’s drive-thru.”
“Sometimes, sweetie, men can mean well, but just be… well, total boneheads.”
“Did Randy do somethin’ like that?”
Celia: “No, no, nothing like that. He didn’t ask.” He asks for other things. “I guess… we got into a bit of an argument. A while back. About what our future would look like. And it’s been a little strained. And I keep… I keep wondering if he even loves me anymore. If he ever did. Or if he was just using me.”
She isn’t talking about Randy now. Not really. Though she uses the human terms that her mother would recognize.
GM: “Oh, no!” her mother exclaims. “How’d it go, sweetie? Is he not sure whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with you, or not?”
Celia: “Something like that. He’s hard to read sometimes.”
“About feelings, I mean.”
GM: “Hmm. Well, I’m definitely not a relationship expert, but you know what they say about communication.”
“But more than that, you two have been dating… how many years is it, now, six?”
Celia: Seven. But who’s counting?
GM: “Well, at this point you know each other about as well as you’re goin’ to. I think you’re right to want to know where this is headed. And there’s really only one place it can be headed.”
Celia: “I guess I just… I have other options, you know? I’m still young enough to move on if he’s not serious about me.”
GM: Her mom doesn’t nod while Celia works, but exclaims, “Absolutely, sweetie! You’re 27. That is still just a kid. You have all the time in the world to find Mr. Right, still.”
Celia: The timer she set goes off. She cleans off the perming solution with a makeup remover wipe and puts the second one on, the one that will stop the solution from processing further.
“Exactly,” she agrees. “I have my whole life ahead of me.”
GM: “You know Randy as well as you’re goin’ to, like I said. I think he needs to… use the loo, or get off the pot.”
Celia: She wonders what he’d say if she were to say that to him.
GM: “And you’ve tried to bring this up with him. Could be all sorts of reasons he’s clammin’ up, now.”
“You really don’t know what’s goin’ on in someone else’s head. Could be there’s a sad story there and he’ll be Mr. Right once the cat lets go of his tongue.”
“And could be he’s just bein’ a bonehead.”
“Emily could try to talk with him, if you think he’s nervous around you. Or you could make an appointment to see a shrink.”
Celia: Now there’s a terrifying thought.
GM: “If you’ve been with him six years, it’s worth makin’ an effort.”
“But this relationship won’t go anywhere if he can’t open up and talk with you.”
Celia: “Anything for the listening, Ma?” She steers the conversation back to more relevant waters.
GM: “Sorry, you mean from me, sweetie?”
Celia: “No. Making him listen the first time.”
“Instead of feelin’ like I need to smack him.”
“Not that I would. Ever. Obviously.”
GM: “Hmm. I’d give him some space, maybe, if he needs to get his head in order. You could write him a letter. Just put out all your thoughts, hopes, dreams on paper, and be very clear what questions you need answered. Give him the day to mull them over.”
“He doesn’t need more than a day. You’ve been together six years. He’s seen the complete package, so far as Celia Flores.”
“If it’s hard for him to get the words out, you could even tell him he’s free to write you a letter back.”
“Or, like I said, see a shrink. It sounds like he needs to talk, more than listen.”
Celia: “That’s… certainly an idea, Momma.”
GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie, if you think it’s a rotten idea. Like I said, I don’t actually have all that much relationship experience, I suppose.” Her mom gives a faint chuckle.
Celia: “I read a sales book once that said silence is the real decider. Let the other person talk first and they give all their power away.”
“I guess maybe there’s some merit, there.”
GM: “Yes, I can see where that’s comin’ from. I mean, until your beau opens his mouth, we honestly don’t know what’s going on in his head.”
“I mean, all right, the letter might be a silly idea. But he really does need to open up with you! This relationship can’t go anywhere if he won’t even talk about it.”
“You could tell him that, if you really wanted to make your point, but I think there’s gentler ways to go about it.”
Celia: She uses a clean makeup wipe to remove the second step of the process while she mulls over her mothers words.
Would it be that easy? Just ask him? Get him to talk to her, let him open up? Somehow, she doesn’t think so. Somehow, she thinks it’ll end up with her body splattered along the ground, in a river, or her head taken clean from her body. He’s not the type of thing she can imagine herself questioning.
Besides, he has more important things to deal with than her. He has made that abundantly clear by their lack of recent contact. How many nights had she waited for him to appear, standing on top of the roof of her haven and staring at the night sky? Each time he failed to show she had been disappointed, had to swallow that bitter pill of acceptance. He doesn’t want to see her.
Still. She had been inside his head once. He had trusted her with that, if ‘trust’ is the word. Had killed her for it, really. There’s still some small part of her that thinks she was an accident. Another unwanted child, though with an ‘e’ this time.
Even so, she’d sold out her family for him.
She tries not to think about it.
She watches what she’s doing instead, using that same metal tool to lift her mother’s lashes from the glue that adhered them to the shield. Then she lifts the shield, cleans off the residue that remains on her lids.
She’d mixed the tint while they were talking and she uses another brush to apply it now, coating each individual lash in color, careful to get all sides of it. She sets another timer.
“Definitely something to think about,” she says at last. “Thanks, Momma. I’ll get it sorted.”
“Sorry for… dinner.”
‘Sorry’ isn’t a word that comes out of her mouth a lot these days.
GM: Celia’s mom fumbles a bit to take her hand and give it an assuring squeeze.
“It’s okay, sweetie. Me and Emily and Lucy all love you. We just want you to be happy.”
Celia: Me too, Momma. Me too.
“I know. I love you guys, too. All three of you.”
“You talk to Logan about what happened at all?”
“I haven’t been able to get ahold of him. Left a voicemail, texted. I guess he’s busy.”
GM: Her mom smiles at Celia’s initial words, but shakes her head. “I’ll give him a poke that you’re tryin’ to get in touch. I think he’s ashamed of what happened. Which is… which is good.”
Celia: “He still live on campus?”
GM: Her mom doesn’t nod while there’s work on her face being done. “Yep, still does. Requirement for their freshman year. I think he’s grateful for it, like you were… for the same reasons.”
Celia: “Maybe I’ll just stop by.”
GM: “I’ll give him a heads up,” says her mom. “Just so he isn’t surprised.”
Celia: “Sounds like a plan, Mom.”
The timer goes off again. Celia uses a final wipe to remove the tint from her mother’s lashes. She has her open her eyes, then undoes the tape from her bottom lashes and pulls away the eye pads. She offers her mother a handheld mirror so she can check it out.
The result is astounding. Even though the lift itself doesn’t offer length, it curls her mother’s rather straight lashes to the point that it almost looks as if they had extensions glued on. They’re a little wet from the color and various solutions, so they stick together, but once they’re dry they will fan out nicely and give her eyes a nice pop.
GM: “Oh, sweetie, these look just gorgeous!” Celia’s mom exclaims, beaming as she exaggeratedly bats her lashes at the mirror. “Those are just like… a brand new pair of pointe shoes, except for my eyes. I bet I’m going to get all sorts of comments at work tomorrow. I do, you know, from tons of girls, who are all following the Celia Flores on her Instragram and Twitter and everything else. They all ask if I get my face done by you, and I always tell them yes, why yes I do.”
“Some of them ask if I’m your sister or cousin. That’s how good a job you do.” Her mom laughs.
Celia: Celia is happy to hear it. She smiles at her mom, pleased that she is pleased.
“I was thinking of running a special for Prom this year. Get some teens in. I don’t usually cater to them, but it is my alma mater…”
“Oh wow. Do they really?” she laughs. “That is one heck of a compliment.”
GM: “You do one heck of a job, missy,” her mom smirks. “A prom special, though, that’s a really good idea! McGehee’s prom is comin’ up in a few months, you know, and anything to make it even more magical for the girls would mean so much to them—after that shooting last August…”
Her mom’s face falls a bit. “Some of them are still gettin’ over that. It would mean a lot to them, I bet, to have a prom special from the Celia Flores.”
Celia: “I can’t even imagine the horror they’re going through.”
Celia had remembered hearing about what happened. Even as busy as she has been in Kindred society, news like a Devillers being shot travels fast. She hadn’t been Cécilia’s first phone call, but she had been among them.
It had been… awful. The whole situation.
“Did I tell you Cécilia asked me to do her hair and makeup for the wedding?”
GM: “Oh, did she? That’s just wonderful, there’s certainly no better salon in the city for her to get it done at,” Celia’s mom smiles.
“That poor family went through so much. Did I mention I’m giving private lessons again, to their youngest daughter?”
Celia: “Are you? Which one is that again? There are so many.”
GM: “There are,” her mom laughs. “Simmone is the one. She… had to leave McGehee, the poor thing, she was so traumatized.”
Celia: “Oh, no. I hadn’t heard that. Are you going to their home to teach her, or does she come to you?”
GM: “Yes, don’t spread it around,” Celia’s mom nods. “I go to their house. There’s no way she could manage anything else. She has separation anxiety, I think. Just being away from her mom or Cécilia gives her fits. I can’t even give lessons without one of them being in the room.”
“They’ve had to cancel a whole bunch of times, when her anxiety was acting up, I think.”
Celia: It’s an effort to keep the smile on her face.
Someone had told her, once, that the house was dangerous. The woman is dangerous. She tries not to think about him. About the hole that his execution left in her heart. He’d been talking about monsters since before she became one.
“Really,” Celia breathes the word, “that sounds… terrible for them. How long have you been going there?”
GM: “Hm, well, the shooting was back in August. I think a few months, now? They really had to wait a while, until Simmone was up to receiving visitors again.” She adds in a low voice, “I think they might have considered a mental institution for her, but Mrs. Devillers wouldn’t hear of it.”
Celia: “Something besides the anxiety, you think? Are the fits… does she hurt herself…?”
GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head. “Well, not physically. But I don’t think what’s happening to that girl is all too healthy. Or, has happened, I suppose.”
Celia: “Can you be a little more specific, Ma?”
GM: “Well… I really shouldn’t be repeating this, sweetie, it’s the family’s private business, but just… little things. I think Mrs. Devillers still breastfeeds her.”
Celia: “Isn’t she… older than Lucy now?”
GM: Her mom nods. “She is. She’s in fourth grade now. I guess maybe it’s just a… French cultural practice.”
Celia: “That’s beyond unusual, Momma. I don’t think it’s a French thing. Don’t women stop producing after a certain time..?”
She’s sure that they do.
“Have you seen this?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Oh no, they don’t do it in front of me. But I’ve had six kids and nursed ‘em all, so I know it when I see it. There’s just little signs.”
“Women can produce milk for a pretty long time, though. I was concerned about that with Lucy. Whether I’d still be able to feed her, or should use formula. But, didn’t have any problems at almost-40.”
Celia: “No, I meant more… after you nurse a child for a while, your body stops producing. You wean the child. You don’t keep feeding her for… years and years.”
GM: “Well, cultural practices can vary there, sweetie. I nursed Lucy for a while longer than I did you and your siblings. Until she was a toddler, you might remember, and I’m happy how that worked out. I know they feel the same way in Europe and tend to do it longer there, too.”
“Though you are right, no question. 10 is pretty darn old for it.”
Celia: “Yeah…” Celia trails off. “And it’s just anxiety? Not, like, seizures?”
GM: “I haven’t seen any seizures. She’s just so scared, all the time, the poor thing. Her mom seems to be all that calms her down.”
Celia: “That poor child. Maybe… I could have you bring her some products? A mini spa kit, kind of an at home thing? You think she’d like that?”
GM: “Oh, that does sound like a fun idea. The family seems like they’re trying to get her out more, or at least liven up her routine. Cécilia actually asked me recently if I wouldn’t mind teaching a small class, with a couple other girls Simmone can socialize with. I might bring Lucy.”
Celia: “Oh? Should I come along? As her ‘mom’?”
GM: Her mom thinks. “The other girls’ moms aren’t staying around for the lesson, but I could ask, if you want to. That mini spa kit sounds like a really fun idea for the kids. Get them to feel all prettied up while they’re dancing.”
Celia: “Let me know when you’re going. I’ll put something together. And if she has any allergies. Probably stick to neutral, non-reactive things for kids… should be fun.”
“Actually, tell you what. I’ll put together a little thing for you to take over to Simmone now, and if Mrs. Devillers wants me to make something up for the rest of them, I can do that too. I’ll meet you right outside the room, Momma, with a cute little basket of goodies for her.”
She smiles at her mother before she leaves the room, taking the opportunity to gather a few things: small bottles of a gentle hydrating cleanser, a face mask, a lip and eye mask, moisturizer, a tinted lip balm, a little pot of pink, sparkly eyeshadow. A spa headband, too, to keep the girl’s hair out of her face. It’s soft and fluffy with unicorns dancing around the rim. Truth be told it’s one of their best selling products. The headband, that is, not the unicorn one in particular. It’s the kind of thing you see at a checkout and think ‘oh, I need one of those,’ but don’t actively go out of your way for.
And all little girls like unicorns, right?
GM: “Oh, this should be so much fun for them!” Celia’s mom exclaims upon seeing the goodie basket. “That unicorn headband in particular. You were right about this bein’ cute as a bug’s ear.”
Celia: Celia smiles at her mother as she takes her toward the front of the spa.
“Let me know what she thinks.”
She has to trust that if Mrs. Devillers had it out for her mother for any reason she would already be gone. She’s been seeing the girl for months now, she said; there’s no reason to suspect foul play. Even monsters want to care for their families, don’t they?
She certainly does. Speaking of.
“I’m going to pop by Logan’s dorm so we can have our chat. Have a good rest of your night, Momma. And thanks.”
For the advice that she will certainly not follow, but it was a nice moment anyway.
Monday evening, 7 March 2016
GM: After Celia’s mom exchanges hugs and “I love yous,” Alana comes through for her domitor with a tourist to feed on. He’s moderately good-looking and isn’t obviously drunk or high.
She gives him the spa treatment to explain what he’s doing here. Jade takes him while he’s on the table. He gasps with pleasure at the pair’s “magic hands.”
Alana likes to watch her domitor feed. But her eyes, most of all tonight, are full of longing. She has been so very patient. And such a good girl.
Celia: She has been. Such a good girl. Such a good ghoul, too. Jade tells her so when she’s done feeding, as she wipes the corners of her mouth to rid herself of any unsightly bloodstains. She found this prefect vessel for her mistress, not like that mistake last night. She offers her ghoul a choice: she can get a kiss now, or she can pencil herself into Jade’s schedule tomorrow and they can make an event of it.
GM: The ghoul beams at the praise. There’s no hesitation as she picks the latter.
Good things come to those who wait.
Celia: Celia pats her cheek. She tells the girl to get rid of the tourist for her and that she’ll be occupied for the next several hours between the visits with her brother and then Savoy. She mentions that she’s going to Riverbend, and leaves the rest unsaid: if she goes missing or fails to show for her meeting later alert Mel, who will alert Savoy, and the two ghouls are to go to ground. Contingency plans and all that.
Celia packs a small bag to take with her to Tulane. It contains her outfit for her eventual meeting with Savoy, just in case things take longer with her brother than she thinks they will. She doesn’t bother to change from her work attire to go see him; she’d already been dressed in flared yoga pants and a blouse, which will fit in just as well among the college students as it does here.
She waves goodbye to Alana and heads out. She dampens her ‘aura’ (she still thinks that’s a silly word sometimes) before leaving. Celia Flores is a perfectly ordinary breather going to see her breather brother. Nothing to see here.
GM: It’s a 16-minute drive from Flawless to Tulane. No one stops Celia along the way from entering Vidal’s territory. Ordinary breather. Still, she knows it’s best not to linger: there are semi-periodic patrols against trespassers. She parks her car and gets out by Barbara Greenbaum House, a four- and six-story residential hall (one of the wings is raised over the others) with room for hundreds of students. Celias’s Beast licks its chops at the thought of so many vessels lying helpless in their beds. It’s not too hungry, after her recent meal, but the thirst is never entirely gone.
But there is something to see here. Tulane’s campus is emptier at this hour of the evening, but Jade runs into a number of avid female coeds who go, “Oh hey! You’re Celia Flores!” “Omigod, I follow your Instagram!” “Can we take your selfie?” “What are you doing at Tulane?” “Do you have a boyfriend here?”
Celia: Celia wonders at the wisdom of appearing here in her mortal face. She could have ducked into a bathroom and changed later. Worn sunglasses. Something to keep the kine from recognizing her.
But, really, how many of her type follow Instagram? How will any of them know? The only ones who know her face are on her side, plus the sheriff, and technically it’s his territory, and if she’s not feeding…
Her mind does the mental gymnastics that make this okay. She smiles for her fans, such as they are, and denies the boyfriend question with an, “I’m perfectly content with just the one.” She poses for a handful of photos, asks them to wait to post those until tomorrow because she’s here as a surprise and doesn’t want to spoil it, and moves on to find her brother’s room.
Celia: Besides, she reasons in regard to her sire, negative attention is still attention.
GM: But they all think she’s pretty.
They all want to be in her pictures.
They all want to look like her.
Some of them probably even want to be her.
There are worse wants to be the subject of. The miserable trek into the sewers seems an increasingly distant memory.
Celia: She doesn’t have long, she tells them, thanks so much for your shares and follows, be sure to tag her when they post (tomorrow!) so she can see them too.
She loves the attention. She really does. It’s sweeter than the blood of the sire she is so intent on avoiding this evening. And it’s that thought—being dragged before him, in trouble, arousing his ire—that gets her feet moving, that makes her answers a little more firm as she extricates herself from the crowd.
Of course her sire is not the only one of her kind to stalk the vast grounds and halls of Tulane (nor can she actually imagine him here amongst the booze-soaked, party kine); she is aware from both her own time here as well as current events that there are others to whom the regent grants feeding rights, and she keeps her eyes constantly moving for any who might fit that description.
So she can avoid them, naturally.
GM: The coeds all promise Celia that they will wait to post the photos and wave as she takes off. At least for now, she spots none of her fellow Kindred… though the college campus is an excellent feeding ground, and she can readily imagine her grandsire telling her she is wise not to linger.
She pulls out her Solaris on the way to Logan’s dorm.
The photos are already up and getting likes.
The girls have tagged her, at least.
Celia: Well. She supposes she’ll just need to bank on the fact that no one is watching her feed. That her kind don’t care enough about Celia Flores to pay attention. That anyone who is doesn’t know that she doesn’t quite belong here.
Maybe they’re not geotagged. Maybe there’s no obvious Tulane buildings in the background. She scrolls through the photos as she walks toward the dorm, sending a quick text to her brother to let him know that she’s here.
Hey L. Came to visit my baby bro. What room are you in again?
GM: oh hey sis. 312.
Celia: She heads up the stairs, taking them two at a time instead of opting for the often overcrowded elevator. A moment later she’s at his door, knocking.
GM: And a moment later he’s at the door, answering. Logan Flores is a tall, blonde-haired and brown-eyed 19-year-old boy with a clean-shaven face. His figure is pretty buff. He played football in high school, just like his old man did, though he’s dropped football in college in favor of the ROTC. It remains to be seen whether that will win Dad’s approval.
“Celia. Hey,” he says at the door, wrapping his arms around her in a hug.
Celia: Celia doesn’t need to feign the smile at the sight of her brother. She’s pretty sure he had another growth spurt since the last time she saw him, too, or maybe it’s because she’s in flats instead of heels. Regardless, it looks like he’s been working out, and the hug he gives her is practically enveloping.
“Hey, Log.” Pronounced with a long ‘O’ instead of likening him to a stick. “How’s your semester coming along? Can I come in for a minute?”
GM: “Yeah, sure,” he says, letting go after a moment.
Logan’s dorm room is fairly typical of an affluent college student. He has it all to himself, for one: no roommate’s second bed. There’s an American flag draped over the wall, along with a wooden crucifix, a high school football banner, and a Make America Great Again campaign poster. There’s also a few family photos. One is of his high school graduation, dressed in a cap and gown with a proud-looking Maxen clapping an arm around his shoulder. The second picture shows a middle school-age Logan, awkwarder-looking but still big, lifting up a smiling Diana in his arms. Her expression all but proclaims, ‘look how strong my boy is!’. The last picture shows Celia’s brother in his football uniform.
There’s also the usual laptop, assorted textbooks and binders, and dirty clothes and dishes. Logan looks like he’s trying to be more cleanly, and even succeeding, but still has a bit of a ways to go. He clears some of the school stuff from his bed and offers Celia a spot.
“Want something to drink?”
“And semester’s going pretty good. Have to be up really early for those ROTC runs, but getting used to it.”
Celia: She does, but she’s not going to take it from her brother.
“No, thank you, I just had a full meal.”
GM: “Okay. How’s the business? There’s a bunch of girls in my classes who all follow your Instagram.”
He heads back from the fridge to plop down on the bed.
Celia: “Glad to hear things are going well. Morning runs sound super yucky, though.” Celia makes a face. She takes the offered seat on his bed, pulling one leg up to sit more casually. Her eyes take in the room, then settle on the brother sitting next to her.
“Business is going great. I just saw Mom earlier today. And yeah, I can tell your classmates follow me; I was practically mobbed on my way in, ha.”
“Made it a little awkward to get the visit in, to be honest. Trying for discretion and there’s a bunch of co-eds screaming my name. I ever tell you about the time I was meeting someone for a date and was accosted by an overzealous fan?”
GM: “Oh. Man. That had to be awkward. How’d you play it?”
Celia: “He was pretty mad about it. Said something about ‘why do you always put your fans ahead of our relationship,’ ’can’t even go out without a camera on you,’ that kind of thing. Super awkward. Didn’t last long. Messy breakup. Before I met Randy, of course.” Celia shrugs, gives him a wry smile. “How’re things with your lady friend?”
GM: “Yeah. Well. Sounds like he was an asshole if he couldn’t be happy for you,” Logan smiles back. The expression lapses, though, at Celia’s question. “Uh. We aren’t really talking. Had a fight. Might be the end.”
“Oh well. Wasn’t gonna last past college anyway, when I commission.”
Celia: “He was definitely an asshole,” Celia agrees. She makes a sympathetic noise at her brother’s reveal.
“Anything worth fighting about? Thought you two were pretty cozy.”
GM: “Just…” Logan waves vaguely. “Stuff. Like that.”
“I dunno. Maybe she’ll be happier with another guy.”
Celia: “Maybe. Are you happy, though?”
GM: “I really, really wish I’d gone to West Point,” Logan sighs, rubbing his head.
“Like, Dad knows congressmen. He could’ve asked the Malveauxes. All the guys who go to West Point are the ones who run things.”
Celia: “Transfer. Get in on your own merit instead of asking Dad. If that’s what you want to do, then do it.”
“But if you’re only doing it to please Dad…” Celia trails off.
GM: “I’m not!” says Logan. “I wanna serve our country. I want to stop terrorists and be the good guy. It beats being a lawyer like David.” Her brother glowers. “He’s such a wuss.”
“But, no way I’m getting into West Point on my own.”
GM: “‘Cuz you need to be top of your class in, like, everything. And you need a congressional nomination, or a service-connected nomination. You literally can’t get in without one. And we don’t have any service nominations.”
Celia: “Right. I remember you talking about the nomination. I thought that’s why you joined ROTC, so you could ask one of them about it.”
“So you put your nose to the grindstone here, stay at the top of your classes, finish out the year, maybe next, and transfer. What’s your GPA?”
GM: “No, I joined ROTC ’cuz it was too late for West Point!” Logan says, frustrated. “And, they don’t like transfers as much. They want freshmen. If you transfer you actually start all over again as a freshman, ‘cuz they don’t think the ROTC is good enough.”
“My GPA’s, I think a 3.0.”
Celia: No wonder he’s so angry. That’s lower than hers had been.
“Did you ask Dad for a nomination, before?”
GM: “Dad can’t nominate me! He’s only a state congressman!” Logan exclaims, angrier.
Celia: “That’s not what I asked. I asked if you asked him to get one for you.”
GM: “No, I didn’t, ‘cause it’s too late! I decided to do ROTC after I got accepted into Tulane, remember? Dad chewed me out all over it.”
Celia: “Logan, just take a breath for me, okay?” Celia pauses. Waits for him to do so. “Do you need West Point in order to serve your country? Or can you finish here, continue with ROTC, and move on from there? You’ll be a commissioned officer, won’t you? That’s already leagues above someone joining with nothing.”
GM: Logan takes a breath.
“There’s tons of officers. I mean, so what. It’s nothing special. Anyone with a BA can be an officer. It’s the ones who go to West Point who basically run everything.”
Celia: “So you’ve got an uphill battle. And, as you just said, there isn’t anything you can do about it now. Can you make the most of what you do have access to?”
“Alternatively… do you need to go into the military to serve the country? You said, specifically, ‘stop terrorists’ and ‘fight bad guys,’ and you don’t have to do military service to do either one of those. What’s your plan? FBI? CIA? NSA? Other acronyms that are too secret for either one of us to know?” She grins.
GM: “The NSA’s for nerds, the CIA gets a million applicants, and the FBI’s, I dunno, I like the military more. I’d like to get out of here and see the world and just blow the shit out of some terrorists.”
“Look, read this.”
Logan pulls up a page on his phone and shows it to Celia:
“My most memorable moments were two that were almost identical. It was when I dropped a hellfire missile into four Taliban sitting cross-legged, indian style in a circle de-briefing their attack on us. I put a hellfire into the middle of them. Actually I put two hellfires in the middle for good measure. Watching the screen go white and then watching their fucking body parts fly everywhere, some of them were twitching, and knowing that I just fucking killed these guys. I just ended their lives. It’s a sense of joy and happiness that I’d only felt when I was a basketball coach. I coached a high school rec team when I was in college and I had this one kid on my team who was the scrub. I spent a lot of time with this kid just teaching him basic shit and he ended up scoring the last point of a game at the buzzer. I don’t remember if it was to win the game, but I remember the joy I saw on his face. There was joy in the stands, with his teammates, and obviously with me as the coach. That was the single most joyous moment of my life until I killed those fucking pieces of shit. And you can see the smile on my face right now, right (laughs)? I’m beaming from ear-to-ear thinking about killing those fucking people. I’ll never forget that. I just remember thinking, ’I’ll probably never feel this happy again.’ And actually it was the next day when I dropped a hellfire into the middle of five of them.”
Her brother grins at her.
“I mean, isn’t that just. Just, holy shit?”
Celia: Celia’s eyes scan the screen of the offered phone. She reads. She reads, then reads again, and wonders where her parents went wrong.
She killed someone last night. Mutilated bodies. Taken people apart, skin, viscera, muscle, sinew, all of it. Turned a gunshot victim into a blood bag. Raped an innocent boy. Plans a vile punishment for when her ghoul comes crawling back to her.
And it still isn’t as bad as the thought of watching the downward spiral that her brother is edging closer and closer to.
But she smiles back at him.
“Is it the killing or the fact that they’re a bunch of towel-headed, Allah worshipping A-rabs that’s got you into it?”
GM: “Well, that they’re towel-headed A-rabs. They’re total pieces of shit. I showed this to one girl in my class who’s a total libtard and went on all about how killing is wrong, and I said these guys are pieces of shit who make women wear veils and carried out 9/11 and blow up thousand-year-old statues because they aren’t Muslim enough.”
“Like, these people are just cartoon-level evil. World’s a better place without them.”
Celia: “Ugh. I wouldn’t even bother with girls like that. Or people like that. Anyone who makes blanket statements like that probably need to have their head surgically removed from their ass.”
GM: “Yeah. I was just showing it to her for laughs.”
Celia: “Riling them up though, that’s fun.”
“She get indignant? Red-faced?”
GM: He grins. “Yeah. She looked like she was gonna explode, that’s how red her face turned.”
“I, uh. I also might’ve showed it to Mom.”
Celia: “That…” Celia stares at him. “That might not have been the best call.”
GM: “Eh heh. Yeah. It… I’d just got really excited.”
Celia: “What did she say?”
GM: “Well, she just made this sort of, puckering expression, and her eyebrows went really up. Then ‘oh my lord’ or ‘oh my heavens’ or something like that.”
“I, uh. Kinda regretted it.”
“I was just showing it to basically everyone I knew. It really inspired me.”
Celia: “I bet. What about when they pull out of there, though? What’re you gonna do after you’re done blowin’ ’em up?”
GM: “Well, we’re sort of always in wars. There’s always more bad guys.”
Celia: “Yeah, but like… at what point are you gonna be the guy pushin’ papers instead of on the ground, you know?”
GM: “Well, highest rank still deployed on the field is a colonel. I mean, plenty guys don’t ever make colonel. Though by that point it’s not like you’re blowing them up yourself, yeah.”
“I dunno. Maybe I’ll stick with it, or go into politics. There’s lots of congresspeople who become captains and then go into public service.”
Celia: “I dated a guy a few years back. Real macho guy. Ex-military. Same ideas as you. OIder, though, so he was getting out right around when 9/11 happened. Told me that when he took his test he scored so high they put him into a special unit, secret base, all sorts of stuff. He didn’t quite say it, but he heavily implied his job was to get information out of people.”
There’s a pause while she eyes her brother.
“Think you’d be into that, or would you rather do it from afar, pressing buttons?”
GM: “I’d rather do it up close,” Logan says. “Like, I think you kinda owe it, in a way. To do it yourself.”
Celia: “Something real impersonal about a gun, yeah.”
GM: “Well, a gun’s pretty personal. I mean pressing buttons.”
“I guess someone’s gotta to do it. But it’s not as, it doesn’t feel as honest.”
Celia: “When Emi was going through med school, she told me that they had to work on cadavers. Rip them open, operate on them, things like that. Dead flesh and all. She said a couple people fainted the first time, and one of the boys withdrew.” Celia gives him a look. “Couldn’t handle it. Lotta cops who leave the force after killing someone too.”
GM: “I can handle it,” Logan proclaims.
Celia: “Maybe we should find out. Got any enemies?” she smirks.
GM: He laughs. “I wish.”
“Just campus libtards, but they’re not terrorists.”
Celia: “Well, at least you’ve got a code.”
GM: “That’s the difference between us and them.”
“Though Noelle Cherry and Bill Jay Roberts might be kinda close to enemies.”
Celia: “Those are Dad’s enemies,” Celia points out, “not yours.”
GM: “Well, his enemies are my enemies. And so are yours and Mom’s and everyone else’s.”
He wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder. “You got any guys who are giving you a hard time, stalking you, whatever, ‘cuz you’re so popular, just lemme know. I’ll beat the crap out of them.”
Celia: “Aww.” Celia ruffles his hair with her hand. “I’ll let you know. You’re the best brother a stalked famous person could have.”
GM: Logan beams.
Celia: “Maybe I’ll have you work security at this event coming up, see if you can keep the hordes of people at bay. Get you a bat to break some kneecaps. You got some free time for me?”
GM: “Yeah, absolutely!” her little brother nods. “What’s the event?”
Celia: She tells him about it. High society kind of thing, the type of place she’ll need to wear her Celia face to. She doesn’t expect trouble, but every time she’s out in public she’s mercilessly hounded, and she tells him about a stalker she had a few years back when she was just getting everything off the ground with her business. Obsessed, she told him. Followed her on social media, followed her in person, it was all pretty creepy. Even attacked her one night, too.
“Would’ve been nice to have you there, then. Never know when the crazies are going to strike.”
GM: “Geez, you never said anything about this!” Logan exclaims. “What’s this asshole’s name?”
Celia: “Doesn’t matter,” Celia says, shaking her head. “I handled it. And he’s dead now, anyway.”
“Also you were like, prepubescent. Like this tall.” Celia holds her hand a foot off the bed.
GM: “Wait, he’s dead? What happened there?”
Celia: “Think he flipped his car.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she waves a hand, “it was years and years ago. And now I’ve got you watchin’ out for me, yeah?”
GM: Logan nods. “Damn, though. That’s crazy. I guess that’s the dark side of being famous.”
“Still, though. You’re famous and you’ve got your own business and everything. You’re really successful.”
“I know you don’t like to talk with him, but… Dad’s proud. He really is.”
Celia: There’s a moment of silence.
Finally, she says, “Is he really? Did… did he tell you that?”
GM: Logan nods. “Yeah. We were just talking about things we’d all done and he said you were really successful, and that he was proud of that.”
Celia: “That’s… that’s really nice to hear. Thanks, Logan.”
GM: “You’re welcome. Have you thought about… maybe seeing him again?”
Celia: “I, uh… I kind of thought he didn’t want to, to be honest.”
GM: “Well. He’s proud.”
Celia: “Doesn’t mean he wants to see me,” Celia points out. “Unless he told you otherwise.”
GM: “Our family’s weird. Dad and you don’t talk. Mom and Grandma don’t talk. Dad and Mom don’t talk. Mom and Isabel don’t talk. You and Isabel don’t talk.”
“Like, our whole family hates each other. What happened to us?”
Celia: “We let ourselves fall apart. We weren’t there for each other, not when it mattered.”
GM: “Oh, and Mom and Prudence don’t talk, forgot one.”
Celia: “Isabel and I exchanged a few letters. While she was at Liberty.”
GM: “How’d those go?”
Celia: “Not… terrible?” She winces. “Could have been better, we had a rocky start. I guess I just… when Mom and Dad split, she and I took opposite sides. I know you were young, but it got ugly a few times between us, and we were both really angry for a long time. I think her being away let me put things into perspective. She’s my sister, you know? So now… now with her being in Sudan, you know, it’s like, ‘how long is she going to be gone? What if she settles down over there and I never get to see her again?’ And that doesn’t sit right with me, so the effort has been more, as of late.”
“Why, got some tips for me on how to get through to her?”
GM: “Well, that’s good,” says Logan. “I haven’t been in touch with her a lot because, like you say, Sudan. She can be… pretty bossy. I mean, after… after you and Mom left, she kinda had to be. Dad called her the ‘lady of the house.’ I just remember this time she was giving me a bath and really scrubbing me to get all the dirt off, and…”
Logan kind of shrugs.
“Maybe just… show you know it’s been hard for her, too.”
“Plus that whole accident with her toe made it all extra hard.”
Celia: “I still don’t even understand what happened there.”
GM: “I don’t really remember a lot either. The others all said we were just going from house to house to house like ping-pong balls. Because of court stuff. Mom and Dad fighting.”
Celia: “It was a pretty turbulent time, all the way around.”
“She never said anything more about it? And with that… really, really ugly scandal?”
GM: “Oh. Yeah. There was how her face, in those videos… I think that’s kinda why she went to Sudan.”
“Just, even though they were fake… everyone still talking about her.”
Celia: “I kind of figured as much, honestly. I can’t imagine being at the center of something like that.”
GM: “Yeah. I mean, worse when you’re a girl, I guess.”
“And Mom didn’t have her face in the news, so… maybe Isabel kinda blames her.”
Celia: “Pretty sure Isabel blames her for more than that. I kind of feel bad for Mom sometimes, since she doesn’t talk to anyone else in her family. We’re all she’s got.”
“But yeah. I guess I just didn’t put it into perspective, that she bore the brunt of all that. Maybe I’ll give her a call. Anything you want me to pass on?”
GM: “Well, Dad doesn’t really talk to his family outside of us either, so I guess him and Mom have that in common.”
Celia: “Dad’s family is complicated, though.”
She hadn’t realized the parallels until the words were out of her mouth. Huh.
GM: “Giving Isabel a call sounds like a good thing to do, though. Sudan has to be pretty lonely.”
“Hey, you know you can talk over WhatsApp to avoid getting charged for international calls?”
Celia: “I didn’t know that, actually. I’ll have to try it. Thanks for the tip. Like I said, best baby brother a girl could ask for.”
GM: Logan smiles. “Yeah. I’ll definitely use it if I get sent overseas.”
“Oh, how’s Lucy, by the way?”
Celia: “She’s good. Doing really well. You should see her dance; so much better than I was at her age, all elbows and knees. Mom’s been a real gem with the childcare.”
GM: “Yeah, she basically lives with Mom, it seems like. It’s pretty cool to be an uncle though.”
Celia: “I bet. I’m sure Mom can’t wait for the rest of you to pop some babies out. She told me about that time you got her hyped up on sugar just before bed time, you know.” Celia gives him a look. “I’m just saying when it’s your turn, turnabout is fair play.”
GM: Logan grins. “Yeah, yeah. She doesn’t have to worry. I want a really big family too.”
Celia: “You could get a motorcycle. Be the cool uncle.”
GM: “Ha. That’s an idea. The whole motorcycle culture is pretty interesting.”
“I… feel kinda bad how Dad never gets to see Lucy,” he then says.
“I mean, he’s her grandpa, and he’s never even met her. And I think he really wants to.”
Celia: “Considering our extremely strained relationship and the things he said to me when he found out I was pregnant, I don’t really think it’s going to happen. That would take some serious apologizing and making amends on his end.”
GM: “Don’t you think it would be better, if we all actually talked and saw each other?”
Celia: “Logan, honestly, I wish it were different. I wish Dad and I got along, and Isabel and I got along, and that none of the stuff that ever happened to our family happened. I really do. I wish it never got bad and I could take back all the mistakes I made. But I can’t just wish and make something happen. It takes two parties. And Dad hasn’t called me, either, it’s not like I’m just ignoring him.”
GM: “Well, someone has to start it, though.”
“You can’t, like, both call at the same time.”
Celia: “At this point I wouldn’t even know what to say to him.”
GM: “Maybe just, you miss having a dad?”
Celia: Somehow she doesn’t think there will be a tearful reunion with hugging and exchanged sentiments if she were to see him again. Even so, it’s there inside of her, a little spark of something she doesn’t want to put a name to. It’s been tucked away for so long that she thought it was gone, but this conversation brings her right back to it.
It brings with it the night he’d made her stay up cooking. The time she’d introduced him to Stephen. The way his hands had felt as they came down on her, hard. The smell of blood. Her mother’s screams. The “eh-eh-eh-eh” from the tape.
Isabel’s broken smile.
“I’ll think about it.”
Maxen belongs to someone else. She can’t talk to him even if she wants to without breaking a bunch of rules and stepping on toes. Like she’s breaking by being here, even if she isn’t feeding.
“I should head out soon.”
GM: “Oh. Sure,” Logan says, getting up from the bed.
“But for what it’s worth… he hasn’t dated. At all. Like, not even once.”
“I mean, obviously, that isn’t you. It’s just… I think Mom and you left a really big hole in his heart.”
Celia: She thinks about telling him why he hasn’t dated. That she’d had this conversation once with him, after Mom had left.
And it’s like a little bulb goes off in her head. She closes her mouth. Hugs her brother tightly.
“Thanks, Logan. I’ll see what I can do to… to fix it.”
GM: He hugs her back. Lifts her up several inches as he does.
“Okay, sis. Love you lots.”
Celia: “Love you lots,” she says, laughing, as he puts her back down. “I’ll let you know about the party. Don’t be a stranger, Logan. You know I like hearing from all of you.”
GM: “Yeah. Me too,” he smiles back.
“Um. Also. I… hit Erin. When I was really mad.”
“What should I do?”
Celia: The mirth fades as quickly as it came. She looks him up and down. Debates what the best thing is to say to him that will get through.
“Erin is my size, isn’t she? So you’re… this much bigger than her. And you hit her.” She makes a noise that’s like a sigh, shaking her head.
“I won’t lecture you on how it was wrong. You know it was or you wouldn’t have said anything to me about it. You could try apologizing, but she doesn’t have to forgive you. Ever.”
GM: “I did say sorry, yeah. She hasn’t said anything back.”
Celia: “But the issue here is deeper. It’s that you thought it was okay to hit her in the first place. You were on edge when I came in. Do you have an outlet for that rage?”
GM: “I didn’t think it was okay! I just… I was just in a really bad mood, and she was being kind of a bitch, and it just… happened. I wish I could take it back but I can’t.”
Celia: “Hey.” Celia lays a hand on his arm. “You don’t need to explain it to me. I get it. I understand that rage. Trust me, I do.”
“Do you want to fix it? Or do you want to learn from it and move on?”
GM: “Well, why not both?”
Celia: “Because you can’t make someone else forgive you for something.”
GM: “I guess not. It’s just being the better person.”
Celia: “And look at it this way: if I told you that I forgave my stalker for attacking me, what would you think about that?”
GM: “Okay, that’d be pretty fucking crazy. He hasn’t done anything to be worth forgiving.”
Celia: “He’s Lucy’s dad.”
GM: Logan blinks. “Wait, what?”
Celia: “It’s a really long story. I’ll tell you, but I want to get you through this first.”
GM: “I wanna hear this! Did he… did he rape you!?”
“We were together. We broke up. He started stalking me.”
“It doesn’t matter. It was years and years ago, and he’s dead. So that’s the end of that.”
GM: “Oh. Wow.” Logan blinks. “That’s… that’s really heavy.”
Celia: “That’s why I asked. What if I told you, after he hit me, I wanted to go back to him?”
GM: “Well… was he really sorry about it?”
Celia: “Maybe. What I’m saying, Logan, is that Erin and I were once in the same position. If she were me, would you tell her to forgive you?”
GM: “I… I guess not… and I haven’t. It’s just that I’m not a bad guy and I hope she could see that.”
“But, if she can’t, maybe we just aren’t right for each other.”
Celia: “Then show her that. But show her from a distance. That will mean more than any apologies. Give her space. Let’s find you an outlet for your rage. I have a few ideas, I just need to talk to some people first.”
GM: “Oh, yeah, you asked. We do a fair amount of physical stuff, for ROTC, and I work out outside of that. But it’s not really like football was.”
Celia: “That’s not the same as what I have in mind.”
GM: “Beating up your stalkers?” he smirks faintly.
Celia: “Something like that. Something outside of the rules of polite society.”
GM: “Wow, okay. I’m behind that. Healthy outlet.”
Celia: “Beats beating women.” She smiles, though, to take the sting from her words, and nudges him with her elbow. “For what it’s worth… I’m glad you told me. The fact that you did and that you want to fix it means you’re not a monster, you know?”
GM: “Yeah. I’m… glad to hear that.”
“I told Mom and I think she told Emily, cause she gave me a total earful.”
Celia: “Anything worth repeating?”
GM: “I hung up,” he says flatly. “Not to be sexist or anything, but… women can be nags in a way guys just can’t, you know?”
Celia: “I was just about to tell you that she gave me an earful for having a glass of wine before dinner,” Celia confides, “so I definitely get it.”
GM: “Well, you’re 27, you can have a glass if you wanna.”
Celia: “That’s what I said.”
“Women, right?” Celia rolls her eyes at him.
GM: “Haha. Right, women. Though I guess guys can be pretty thick too in their own way.”
Celia: “We’ve all got our issues.” She grins. “But, yeah, to sum it up, my advice is to leave her alone now that you’ve apologized, and to let me borrow some of your evenings to show you a better way to release that anger. I think you’ll like it.”
GM: “Okay, that sounds good. Text me about whenever.”
Celia: “Will do. And you know my door is always open if you need me. Take it easy, Logan.”
GM: “I know. You too.” He hugs her again.
Celia: She lingers momentarily, soaking up all the feelings of being human again that she can get from her brother hugging her. It’s a warmth she doesn’t get from others of her kind, a goodness she can’t find within Kindred society. Even knowing that he has rage problems, even hearing that he’d hit his girlfriend, she doesn’t think he’s nearly as bad as the people like her.
Before she goes she nabs the hoodie that’s slung over the back of his chair and tells him it’s to avoid the stalkers on the way to her car.
It’s worrying, she thinks, this obsession he has with wanting to blow people up, but maybe… maybe she can fix it. It’s not too late for him.
She touches a hand to his arm at the door, smiling up at him. He isn’t so far gone that he can’t come back.
Maybe her family isn’t as broken as she thought.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
Celia: There’s something to be said for the differences in dealing with the members of her family. Her mother is handled with kid gloves and velveteen coated lies. Lucy with cotton candy smiles. Logan with patient understanding and shared joy over torment.
And Isabel… Isabel needs a firmer hand, Celia thinks. She has been thinking for some time now on how to play this, on the best way to begin mending the fence that their parent’s fighting cast down upon them. It isn’t fair, she thinks, that someone else’s actions were what began to throw shade over the sunny garden that could have been their relationship.
Perhaps it is Logan’s words that got through to her. Or perhaps it is just that opportunity came knocking late one night, and now she just needs a moment to kill time before her meeting with the lord of the French Quarter.
The store is on her way back to the spa. Hustler Hollywood, it’s on the far end of Bourbon Street near Canal, right next to a Walgreens. The neon light beckons to her, a guide toward the double doors that lead into the depraved fantasy world beyond. It’s amusing to see the looks of tourist kine as their eyes scan the front of the shop window, decorated with a display of mannequins in various poses with gauzy lingerie, strap-ons, and leather paddles dangling from their wrists. It’s amusing to see the disgust as mothers pull their children closer, avert their gazes, cover their eyes with their hands. She wonders, sometimes, why there is even anyone allowed on the street that is under the legal drinking age. Do they expect sunshine and rainbows in a place like this?
She pushes open the front doors.
The first floor is lingerie. Body suits, dresses, thongs, heels that are so impossibly high she can’t even fathom how someone would walk in them. DVDs, too, for those people who are too old or too dumb to know how to find what they want online. Purses, necklaces, body jewelry. She lingers for a moment in front of the glass case with the jewelry, eyeing the contents. She could get something for Alana. One of those body chains that attaches to throat and nipple, or perhaps the one with the extra chain that would clip around her clit. She wonders, idly, if the ghoul would submit to a piercing. A set of piercings. Ones that buzz when Jade presses a button.
Of course she would. She’s a good girl.
But Jade isn’t here for Alana tonight. She’s here for another reason, so she takes the stairs in the middle of the floor that lead to the second story, where things get a little more risque. This is where they keep the toys. The handcuffs and dildos and lube, the strap-ons and vibrators and leather cuffs and collars. She gravitates toward the section that looks more like it belongs in a dungeon than a sex shop, aisles lined with whips and chains and prong collars, electrical devices, paddles. And there, on their very own shelf, sits a collection of gags. Ball gags, o-ring gags, double ring gags, tube gags, gags with little silicone cocks that fit neatly into the mouth, gags with lips, gags with hooks, gags with straps that go across the whole face, dental gags, hooded gags, spider gags. Some are metal, some are leather, some are silicone or latex.
She takes her time perusing the selection. Her brother’s words and her own desire to fix what she broke play in her mind. But she cannot pretend her special visitor is not dangerous, and that if said visitor were to discover her secrets and spill them to the Kindred society at large there would not be problems. So Jade opts for a whole kit. A face mask with an open mouth where she can put the steel gag. Mittens to cover the hands, little booties for the feet.
She puts it all into a basket and tosses in an item or two for Alana, as well. Maybe one day she’ll collar Randy, she thinks, once he learns to submit. Perhaps a gag for him. She laughs at the thought, drawing a look from a nearby patron, and she winks at him as she walks away. Her hips swing with each step. She pays for her items. Loads them up into the car. Finds another parking spot nearer her own domain, Bourbon Heat. This time of night the party is already in full swing, and it’s to loud music and strobe effects that Jade walks into the door. Bodies twist and writhe on the floor.
She buys a drink. She pretends to sip, eyes scanning the floor for what she needs. Someone with a crucifix, maybe a pair of cross earrings. Someone who loves Jesus.
GM: Bourbon Heat is partying. Like always.
Hundreds of bodies are packed into the nightclub like sardines, writhing and undulating to pounding club music. Jade can all but smell their lust and sweaty desperation. The pungent musk is no less prevalent at the bar, where sharply-dressed, cool-eyed human predators leisurely pick out victims from among the throngs. Other individuals stare at the dance floor with drooping eyes as they hold hands to skulls pounding from one laced drink too many. Some of the predators molest them in plain view of the crowd, while others half-lead, half-drag their prey away to bathrooms where they may satisfy appetites even this jaded public cannot countenance. Yelling, sneering, and laughing faces are ghoulishly illuminated by the pulsating blue and red lights. The entire city seems present in the club in microcosm, driven by the knowledge that it will be old one day and no longer free to indulge its appetites. Better dance, drink, and fuck its way to an early oblivion.
Love for Jesus appears all-too scarce in this house of sin.
But it’s not overlong before the attractive Toreador starts to receive attention. There aren’t as many guys who follow her social media accounts as there are girls, but there’s still some. A smirking, green-haired young man in a spiked leather jacket, fob chain, and t-shirt that reads ‘FUCK YOU’ strikes up a conversation.
“I had a girlfriend who was really into your makeup vids,” he remarks.
He slips something into Jade’s drink while he probably thinks she isn’t looking.
Celia: Ah, well, Jade supposes that the mark was a guess anyway, and she doesn’t have the required time this evening to be picky. One juicebag will work as well as another.
The predators, though, those pose a challenge of another kind. A game of cat and mouse and they don’t know which they are until her fangs have sunk into their neck or wrist to draw that delicious meal forth. It would be all to easy to scoop up an overly indulged tourist or co-ed, but where oh where is the enjoyment in that?
She doesn’t even need to seek one out. He comes to her, this green haired bravado, and she plays the role of Jade oh-so-well when it’s male eyes on her. She smiles at him.
“She has good taste.” Her eyes linger on his body as she speaks the words. She reaches out to touch one of the spikes on his jacket. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve always admired a man in leather.”
She gives the boy the opportunity he needs to feel like a man when he spikes her drink. She takes another pretend sip. Roofies? She pulses with the music, lets the boy chatter in her ear, inane comments that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The minutes tick by, her cup gets ever lower. Spilled across the floor, another sticky residue for the cleaners in the morning.
At some point she sways, leaning against him. Her words slur. Thanks, Randy, for the practice.
Find my car, take me home, go somewhere quieter; does it really matter what she says?
It doesn’t, in the end. It doesn’t really matter what she says or to whom she says it to, not in a place like this, not to a boy like him. Everyone here wants the same thing anyway: to escape from their problems. To find a partner to rub up against on the floor, someone to take home to ease the ache of the emptiness in their hearts for a night, to quench that fire in their loins.
She doesn’t feel anything about it anymore, particularly not when the kine are so eager to show off that they’re rotten people at their core. Predators are bad for business, anyway. So she leans on him on their way out the door, giggles at what comes out of his mouth, leads him to her car. Of course I can drive, she tells him, and that’s that.
They’re back at the spa in no time at all. She takes him inside to find her other visitor, the one receiving this present wrapped in studded leather and profanity-ridden shirts. She passes him off to Alana and tells the ghoul to keep an eye on him for a moment while she prepares a room.
She takes a moment to walk back to the car to retrieve her purchases.
GM: The boy looks amused at Jade’s suggestion she can drive, but doesn’t stop her. Maybe what he’s given her is slow-acting. Maybe he doesn’t give a fuck. Maybe he’s just being stupid.
Why does anyone do anything.
He’s reluctant to leave Jade’s side at first, but Alana presents such a tempting treat. When the ghoul starts making sexual advances, he finally follows her off. Jade supposes it makes the need for date rape drugs is redundant.
Unless he gets off to that.
Not impossible. People can be cruel. Vampires aren’t the only predators among the kine.
One might not even be the only predator here.
Jade almost doesn’t notice it at first, amidst the flow of traffic. But there’s only so much traffic in the Vieux Carre.
There’s another car. Plain and unassuming.
Waiting outside the spa.
Celia: Well this has certainly made for an interesting evening. A predator inside the club, and now a hunter outside the spa. Lonely fan? Police detective? Stalker? Could be a jealous girlfriend, maybe the one he mentioned earlier.
Or it could be someone following her from Tulane. Someone who saw her there. Kine? Kindred? Logan? The boy from the Hustler store?
There are only so many ways to find out.
She makes sure that her Celia mask is firmly in place. Draws that predatory smell into her body, so people like her won’t react, and in its place she projects the one she wants instead: innocence. Celia Flores is just another mortal in yoga pants and a university hoodie, another hard working woman going about her evening.
Her eyes scan the face of the man in the car. She doesn’t recognize him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Her steps take her past his car. Slowly.
Give them the opportunity they need and all, right?
GM: The man in the car doesn’t glance up at Jade. There’s a woman in the seat next to him. Brown hair, maybe in her 30s, casually dressed. They’re both hunched over the same phone screen as an entertainment video plays.
Celia: How anticlimactic, Celia thinks. She’d thought there would be another vessel to add to her collection tonight. A second juicebag for she and her guest to share. She might have even invited a second one in. But three? Three is pure gluttony. Excessive. Decadent, and not in the best way.
She walks right past the car and into the spa, the bags in her arms only a mild inconvenience as she locks the door behind her.
And yet… there’s that niggling thought in the back of her mind. The sense of trouble. Danger.
Her plans for this evening go out the window. It’s unfortunate, but then she really shouldn’t be getting sloppy. Not with this face.
She finds a mask for her mouth and nose, pulls her hair back into a severe bun to keep it off her face, dons a pair of those eyeglasses her lash techs use. The masks, too, are for the lash techs; there’s nothing quite like being in someone’s face and breathing their air, smelling their breath, for an hour or two at a time that makes you want to gag. Hence the masks. Standard practice. Celia doesn’t usually bother with them, but Piper has complained one too many times about clients coming in after their morning coffee, or bringing in the curry or Thai smell from one of the places nearby.
Plus, it’s generally bad form not to wear one during a dermaplaning session. Who wants to inhale all those dead skin cells that are scraped off with a scalpel?
It’s not quite as good a disguise as changing her whole face, she admits, but it’ll do.
She goes to find her guest.
The special one, not the punk.
GM: Celia’s special guest awaits on a steel, cuff-lined table in the Kindred frenzy room. Alana has cleaned it up from the girl’s death, disposing of the unused parts and saving what her mistress can recycle.
The current occupant looks like hell. Her face has been all but ripped to shreds. White bone freshly gleams from under raw, red, claw-shaped tears. She’s missing an eye, along with wholesale clumps of hair and chunks of flesh from lower down across her body. Celia can tell, because her clothes are little more than bloody tatters. The still-intact flesh looks like it’s been through a grain thresher. Hell has chewed her up and spat her out. The wooden stake protruding from her chest almost feels like overkill.
The vampire’s sole remaining, wide open gray eye stares up Celia with hate. Pure, frozen, paralyzed hate.
But, be that as it may.
Logan said she should talk to her sister.
Celia: It’s not her fault.
That’s what Celia tells herself. That it’s not her fault her sister had come after her. Not her fault she’d launched herself at her in a frenzy. Not her fault that Randy did his job and put her down, so easy to do once the girl had been torn to shreds by another.
Celia steps into the room. Her eyes are on her sister, wary. A caged beast, and she’s only made it worse, and the pair of people outside in the car have complicated things. Now she can’t just feed the punk to her.
Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe all that BDSM gear she’d just purchased shouldn’t be used on her sister. She’ll try something else instead. She puts on a new flavor. The face of a friend. The kind of friend you’d spill your secrets to, or maybe even the face of a sister: someone you sit up with late at night with your legs tucked under the covers, blankets over your head, flashlight shared between the two of you while you read from the magazines your parents didn’t want you to have, long after they turned out the lights. Before the monsters crawled out from under the bed.
She uses a scalpel to cut the inside of her wrist, too, and then her fingers to pry open her sister’s mouth so the blood can drip inside.
Nothing by half measures.
GM: At that sanguine taste, a monster overtakes Roxanne’s eye. It bulges in its sockets, the veins red and thick as any flow of blood. That monstrous eye screams for more. It screams to rip Celia to pieces and drink up every last precious drop from her veins.
Fangs visibly bulge in Roxanne’s mouth.
But that is all they can do.
Minutes pass before a sister stares back out from that bruised and bloodied eye.
A frightened sister. A hurt sister. A vulnerable sister.
A sister Celia never had.
But maybe one she could have had.
“She’s still really in her shell,” their mom had said. After Isabel and Diana and the others were all together again.
Maybe Celia could have talked to her. Before that fateful text to Dad.
Who knows what sister she might now have?
Celia: She broke her. Celia did this. Could have fixed it. Could have made any number of choices that would have taken all of them on a different path. Could have —
She pulls herself from the thoughts that threaten to drag her down into the depths of the hell inside her soul.
No one gets anywhere by looking in the rear-view mirror.
“I brought you a snack.” Her voice is muffled by the mask. It seems like overkill now; there’s no way Roxanne doesn’t know who she is. But she doesn’t remove it. “But his friends followed me. Sloppy. I’ll get you another.”
She moves around the table, checking her restraints, making sure everything is set. She had tested this table extensively. It was built to maintain the rage of Kindred much stronger than her sister.
Hopefully it holds.
“The problem is I don’t know what kind you like. Your preferences. I thought maybe someone religious; can you believe the lack of Christians in the French Quarter?”
She doesn’t expect an answer. No way for the girl to answer, really, with the stake still in her.
The scalpel flashes out once more, this time to the side of Roxanne’s arm. She lets the blood cool. Long enough that it shouldn’t cause an issue. Longer than she’s ever waited before, all that talk of ‘safe sex.’ Takes her back to that night.
She doesn’t want to think about that night.
So she counts to ten, fifteen, twenty. Plays the first part of her favorite song in her head. That catchy one that’s always on the radio that she’ll never admit to liking. That’s long enough.
Her finger dips into the blood, brings it to her mouth to taste.
She doesn’t want to think about that night, but there it is. In her head, dragging her down. Her sister spread out just like this, cuffed at wrist and ankle. She’d been smacked around then, too. Bleeding, even. But not like this. Bleeding from between her legs. Bleeding, a puddle of it beneath her on the pink fluffy sheets of Celia’s childhood bed, pink because her mother had been tied there moments before, had endured the same abuse. Red and white make pink.
Celia did that. Both of those. Left her mom that night, let her get kidnapped. Told her dad to tie up her sister.
And he had.
She’s doing this now, too. Her sister came to her broken. Bleeding. And she’d staked her for it.
Like the monster that she is.
The monster inside snarls as the blood hits her tongue. She’s so caught up in memories that she almost doesn’t taste it. But there it is: the information that she’s looking for.
GM: Red and pink. Maybe yellow, too. Or brown.
It’s funny to think about them tied up on the same bed like that.
Did their mom piss or shit herself? Celia can’t remember that particular detail, but she can attest that many people who you do terrible enough things to can lose control of their bowels. So Roxanne, Isabel, whoever (she was Isabel then), was raped on top of her mom’s piss and shit.
Does that make it better, if it came from from your mother? It’s better to sit on your own piss and shit than a stranger’s, she supposes, so is it somewhere in between if it comes from an immediate family member? It’s sort of like asking whether you’d rather find a hair from a family member or a stranger in your food, and the answer to that is a no-brainer.
Then again, maybe Roxanne just didn’t notice.
And maybe the bed just went back to white after her dad finished inside her and it dripped out.
Celia might wonder who cleaned that up, anyway.
Awkward to ask Luana to do.
She can’t see her dad doing that himself, either. He didn’t do that after he finished inside her mom, after all. Celia remembers that too. How Diana cupped her hands around her vagina in a mostly futile effort to collect the cum after it pooled out. There went all of Lucy’s brothers and sisters, dribbling between her fingers.
She supposes pain and degradation has always been a Flores birthright.
Next to the memories, the tang of Roxanne’s blood is almost disappointing. It’s been a long time since Celia tasted her sire’s, but the Beast never forgets.
The vitae of these Kindred tastes nothing alike. Not even down to the same clan.
Celia: How long had she hated her? How long had she wanted to wrap her hands around her neck and squeeze until her head popped off? How long had she wanted to have her on her table here, like this, and flay the skin from her body so she could keep it as a souvenir?
She’d thought of so many ways to kill the bitch since she had ruined this new life for Celia simply by existing. She’d worked so hard to conceal her name, her real name, so this interaction never happened.
That’s the truth of it, then: they were sisters once.
They’re not anymore.
Jade buries the hatchet.
She reaches forward to pull the stake from Roxanne’s heart.
“Why did you come here?”
GM: Roxanne doesn’t gasp. Her lungs are dead.
The ravenous, almost dead, still-bleeding, monster just jerks and thrashes against her restraints. Madness burns in her eyes.
She rasps out a single word:
Celia: Celia leaves the room without a word. The door locks behind her.
Dilemma: feed her the boy and his friends outside know that this was his last seen location. That could bring up problems later on. It’s probably already brought up problems. Feed her the last of the blood from the girl last night and deal with a Kindred who might be on ecstasy. Feed her Alana? No, that’s too big a risk. Celia could feed from Alana, the girl, and the boy… and then spit it back up into a cup. Baby-birding, as it were.
Her Beast snarls at the thought of giving up what belongs to it. Its claws scrape against her insides in warning. No vomiting up the blood, then.
She finds Alana and the boy to see what sort of state they’re in.
GM: They’re fucking on the table. Alana mostly looks bored.
Celia supposes it’s keeping the guy occupied.
Well, not perfect. There’s a twinge of something territorial at the sight of someone else railing what belongs to her, assuaged only by the glazed look in the ghoul’s eyes.
Celia doesn’t make her presence a secret. She slips behind the pair of them and runs her tongue along her newly lengthened fangs. She bites the boy first, running a hand through that green hair of his while she swallows down his blood, slurping and sucking until she has taken what she needs before licking it closed. She makes the pair of them flip so she can get to Alana next, out of sight of the poorly performing stud. She bites. Drinks. Cups a bare breast in her hand while she does so, fingers pinching her nipple. She whispers to Alana to drug him and get rid of him when she’s done: out the back door, drop him at a club.
Then she’s gone. To find the leftover blood from the girl last night, drug ridden as it is. She pours it into a borrowed mug from the break room. Cuts herself to bleed what she’d just taken into the mug, swirls it around to combine it. Into the microwave to get it hot.
GM: The stud’s poor performance notwithstanding, he’s clearly into Alana. He hoots like a monkey and slaps her tits. She has eyes only for her domitor, though, when the Toreador comes in. She obediently flips, even when it makes the boy curse, and whimpers with pleasure as Celia squeezes her so-firm nipple. She whispers back, “Too glad to,” as her mistress takes her leave.
Celia watches the bug in the microwave go around and around. She covers a dish over it like Mom always said to. Don’t want any precious blood to get over the walls, after all.
Two minutes, for good measure.
Get it piping hot.
She wonders if Roxanne would appreciate her flesh bag.
The mug goes around and around.
Celia feels like she could stare at it for just forever. There’s nothing in the world but her and that microwaving mug. Sight recedes. Sound recedes. Just her and that mug and the lit-up microwave.
Something hard hits her knees, then her chin, and it all goes dark.
Beep-beep goes the microwave.