“People do not fucking change!”
Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016
GM: Celia comes to. Pain in her flank. Her Beast roars to life. It howls and roars and thrashes. All she sees is red. All she feels is hurt.
Finally the scarlet haze clears.
“You calm?” comes Roderick’s voice.
She’s lying on her side in a cramped dark space, her hands bound behind her. Steel digs into her wrists.
There’s a thick wad of cloth in her mouth, too.
Celia: Her body thrashes against the cuffs until she realizes where she is, until she hears his voice. The panic and rage subside. She peers up at him, blinks a few times, and finally nods her head. Her fangs tuck themselves away, leaving just the gag.
She can’t speak around the cloth, but she nods again.
GM: Roderick pulls out the gag and then unfastens the cuffs. Her belly hurts, like she’s been stabbed or shot, but there’s no blood in the air.
“Sorry. You weren’t waking up any other way.”
There’s movement from under them. The ceiling is so low he’s lying next to her. Looking around, she sees a small glow-in-the-dark button.
Celia: “S’okay. I’d’ve done the same.” She glances around, for all the good that does her. “Where are we? Who is driving?” They’re in a car. Have to be. Movement, the button. Day out. Someone kidnapped them?
GM: “My renfields,” Roderick answers. “I’m having them take us somewhere else. My haven’s obviously been compromised. I don’t know if more hunters are going to show up, but we’re not going to risk it.”
Celia: She nods again. Relief shudders through her. She’d assumed the worst—that more of them had already shown up, forced their way inside while she was snacking.
“Smart. The bodies?”
GM: His face doesn’t wince, but it looks heavy. He doesn’t say anything for a moment.
“I didn’t want to risk dragging three bodies into the parking garage in the middle of the day. Couldn’t fit them all in the trunk anyway.”
“I left them in the safe room. Only people who’ll know that’s there besides us are more hunters.”
“I’ll find a way to take care of them tonight.”
Celia: She should have found a better way to ask. The trunk is cramped, but she manages to finagle her arms around to the front of her so she can touch his face, his hands, offering what comfort she can.
“I’m sorry, Roderick. I know you… I know it’s hard. It was them or us, there was no other way.”
GM: He closes his eyes for a moment at her touch.
“You said if there was any lick who could go through the Requiem without killing, it was me.”
“So much for that.”
Celia: “You didn’t have a choice. They would have killed you. Would have killed me. Even breathers would excuse it.”
GM: “I could’ve taken them alive. It didn’t have to go this way. I let my monster get out, and I… I killed them!”
He punches the floor.
“They were people. They had names, lives, families…”
Celia: “They were hunters. They would have kidnapped us, taken us to some secret site, pulled us apart, ripped out our fangs, stabbed us with things, burned us, raped us. D’you… d’you know they made me watch, they had me, and they made me watch them cut off Alana’s ear. They’re not good people, Roderick, they’re not. It’s hard. It’s so hard, to take a life, I know that. It makes us the monsters people think we are. But if they’re going to kill us… if it comes down to protecting you, to protecting myself, I’m going to pick us. Every time.”
“We didn’t ask to be turned into this. I didn’t. It was this or death. They sign up for this. They know what they’re getting into. The risk they’re taking. They came after you and they don’t see you as any better than any other lick. They don’t care that you’re a good person, that you fight to put criminals away. They just see a monster. It’s like hating someone for being black.”
GM: “I asked for it,” he answers quietly. “And black people don’t have a demon inside them that makes them commit murder.”
Celia: “Coco offered you a choice. You chose to stick around instead of being put down, like she’d have had to do if you said no. That’s not asking for it.”
GM: “We don’t know they were rapists and sadists.”
Celia: “I have a name and a life and a family too, Roderick. Do you think it would serve Lucy, Emily, or my mom to not have any idea why I disappeared?”
“They won’t let you go once they get you. Being taken is a death sentence.”
“And then if you’d been taken I’d have had to go to Coco and tell her that I lost you. That I hid while her childe got taken by hunters. She’d rage and take my head off and then Dani would be left with nobody to look out for her, and she needs somebody to look out for her.”
GM: “No. I don’t think… self-defense is always justified,” he asserts, asking his head. “But we don’t know they were going to be as horrible as the ones who got you. We don’t know they wanted to do anything but kill another Xola or Donovan. They could’ve been acting on bad intelligence and thought I was a monster just as bad. They don’t know everything about us. They could’ve been trying to do a good thing. We don’t know. We can’t know. Because I killed them.”
He clenches his eyes shut again. Celia can smell the faintest trace of blood.
Celia: “We saw their faces. Even if they weren’t bad people, even if they didn’t torture us, we couldn’t live after that. We’d tell someone.”
“How do you think they found you?”
GM: “I… I don’t know yet. I’ll find out, tonight.”
Celia: “What are you going to do?”
“Did you bring their phones? I can try to get into them, see if that tells us anything. And mine.”
GM: “I did. Yeah. We haven’t tried to get in yet. Just, hide the bodies and get out of there.”
Celia: “I’m sorry I konked out. I was trying to get back to you and I just… couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
“I should have been awake to help.”
GM: “It’s fine. We didn’t need an extra set of arms.”
He looks like he could take a breath.
“I guess you’re right. It was them or… them or us. But I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
“And I didn’t… I didn’t even choose to kill them. I let my monster get out. It didn’t care what they did. It just kills, anything.”
“I can’t control it. I’m a danger.”
Celia: Celia scoots closer, sliding her arms around him. She rubs a hand up and down his back, nestling against his chest.
“I know. I know, it hurts. But you will get through this. I promise you. You will get through this, because I will be there for you every step of the way. We’re in this together. I’ve got you.”
“You saved me, Roderick. That has to count for something.”
GM: He’s slower to return her affections, at first, but wraps his arms around her and cradles her head against his chest.
“It… it does. God knows it does.”
“All I could think at that moment when I was playing dead was, are they going to rape you too, before they kill you. If I don’t stop them. And I just completely lost it, wondering that.”
Celia: “And you didn’t let them. They would have… tied me down, like the other ones did, and just… just…” She shudders, shaking her head. Her lips press against his throat, whisper-soft. “I don’t know what I would have done without you there to protect me.”
GM: “I’m just sorry I didn’t protect you better. You came to me to be safe. Not to get jumped by more hunters.”
Celia: “I am safe. I’m safe with you. I’ve always been safe with you.”
GM: He doesn’t say anything for a moment, just holds her against his chest.
Celia: “You can’t blame yourself for that.”
GM: “They didn’t find this place by accident. I’m coming back tonight, with my renfields and my krewe, to pack up everything and… take care of the bodies. New haven after this.”
“I’d been meaning to get a new one for a while, anyways. This just moves up the timetable.”
Celia: “I still don’t understand how they would have found you. Nothing is in your name, right?”
GM: He shakes his head. “It’s a pseudonym behind a pseudonym.”
“I thought about having everything in Roderick Durant’s name, at first, but Coco said it was better to keep the Kindred and kine stuff separate. She was probably right.”
Celia: “…what if… what if they followed me, Roderick? What if they found my mom, and found me, and were waiting for me, and I… oh god, what if I lead them right to you?” Her fingers clench into fists. Is this her fault, too?
GM: “No,” he says, “they couldn’t ha…” He trails off.
“Wait. Didn’t you say your family was calling you?”
Celia: Her hysteria is stymied by his question.
GM: He presses her phone into her hands.
Celia: Celia unlocks it to check her texts and voicemail.
GM: “I’m sorry. With everything else, I forgot.”
Celia: “Could be nothing,” she says with a shake of her head, scrolling through.
Alana was supposed to find out.
She’d told her to.
She hadn’t even checked the line of texts from her mother or Emily, but she opens them now.
And looks, too, for the message from her new “friend.”
GM: There’s a panoply of texts and voicemails. The first one is from Diana, dated shortly after Celia dropped her mom off at home:
“Sweetie, help,” croaks Diana’s voice. “I’m really sick. Please come over.”
It ends there.
Celia: Shit. But it’s just a cold, right? A cold from being out and about at night. Leg pain from being in the rain. Rain hurts old wounds, everyone knows that, all those old people complaining about their knees when the clouds start to appear. That’s all it is. All it has to be. Please let it be just that.
GM: There’s another voicemail after that one:
“Sweetie, please pick up.” Her throat sounds really dry. “I’m sick. My leg really hurts. I can’t… Emi’s with Robby…”
There’s a third message after that one. Celia’s mom sounds like she’s crying:
“Sweetie, please. I can’t… get out of bed… there’s vomit… I had this… nightmare… I really need you…”
Celia: Her stomach clenches as the voicemails get worse, as her mother’s voice begins to tear up.
She should have stayed. Checked on her mom. Made sure she was okay instead of running away.
GM: There’s a text message, too. The recipients include Celia, Emily, David, Logan, and a number Celia doesn’t recognize:
Someone please COME OVER!!! Im rly sick Lucy needs breakfast a ride hasnt take the bus before Im missing work the school needs to get a sub someone please get this BEFORE SHE WAKES UP!!!!!!! DOnt wanT HER TO SEE!!!!!!!!
Celia: Celia ceases her search. She calls her mother instead, holding up a finger to Roderick to tell him to be quiet.
GM: It rings until it goes to voicemail.
“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
Celia: It’s a recurring nightmare. The same thing that happened years and years ago. No one picks up their phone.
“Hey, Momma. It’s Celia. I just got your messages. Please call me.”
She hangs up.
GM: She picks up after the first ring.
“WHAT THE FUCK!?” she yells in Celia’s ear.
Celia: “What’s going on, Emi?”
GM: “What’s goi—did you read those fucking texts!?”
Celia: “They all just came through at once. I saw Mom is sick, so I stopped reading to call her and got her voicemail. Then I called you. Are you going to tell me, or should I hang up to read them?”
GM: “Maybe you sh-”
She pauses. Takes a breath.
“Okay. Here’s what happened.”
“Logan got Mom’s text. He wakes up before me. ROTC.”
Celia: Celia tucks the phone against her shoulder, sliding her wrists into Roderick’s hands so he can get a grip on her in case she loses it.
She has a feeling. A really bad feeling.
“He took her to Maxen,” she breathes.
“Did he take her to Maxen?!”
GM: “It’s a school day. Lucy’s at McGehee. I know that, because I ditched med school to fucking check her classroom myself.”
“Logan came over. Made Lucy breakfast. Got her to school. Got Mom some ibuprofen. Carried her over to my vomit-less bed and did the laundry.”
“Except, oops. Guess who he brought.”
“Guess who he brought.”
Celia: “Who, Emily?” Her voice is tight, already imagining the worst case scenario.
GM: “MAXEN!!!!!” screams Emily’s voice.
“Who the FUCK else!? Mom woke up in his ARMS! HE gave her ibuprofen! HE rinsed her mouth! HE carried her to my bed! HE did the laundry! HE made Lucy breakfast! HE drove Lucy to fucking school!”
“AND MOM WON’T STOP RAVING HOW GREAT HE IS THAT FUCKING BATTERED-!”
Celia: Why. The. Fuck.
Why the fuck.
Why the absolute fuck would Logan bring Maxen over to her mother’s house.
He doesn’t know. That’s the only logical explanation, that he doesn’t know what a piece of shit Maxen is, that he doesn’t believe Celia when she says that he’s bad news, that they think she’s lying about what she lived through.
“Where is she.”
It’s not a question. It’s a demand for answers.
GM: “She’s home. Sleeping. Maxen’s gone.”
“I cut him.”
Celia: “You cut him?”
GM: “I saw her in his arms, I took a carving knife, and I stabbed him.”
Celia: Way to go, Emily.
Celia glances at the time on her phone.
GM: “I didn’t know. Logan didn’t say he was there. I came home, to check on Mom, I saw him there, with Mom, and I stabbed him.”
It’s early afternoon.
Celia: “Get out of the city. Pick up Lucy from school. Take Mom. And go. Just drive. Get out, because you sure as fuck know he isn’t going to take that lying down.”
She can already picture it. Emily thrown in jail for attacking Maxen—that would be the least of her worries. The sheriff coming after Emily for harming his toy.
“Mom still has a restraining order against him, but I guaran-fucking-tee it’s going to do jack shit.”
“…is he dead?”
GM: “He’s fine. Better than fine.”
“He said I should tell Mom what I did. He said he’s not going to press charges.”
GM: “Because she loves me.”
Celia: She doesn’t buy it for a minute.
GM: “His exact fucking words.”
Celia: “You don’t believe that.”
“You can’t believe that.”
GM: “Of course I don’t! I drove you to the hospital with a bloody ass and broken arm, remember!? People do not fucking change! They don’t! Not complete 180s like that!”
Celia: “Why is he doing this? What is he hoping to get? I can’t… I can’t even think of what purpose this serves. Getting Mom back? Getting Lucy?”
GM: “I don’t know! Maybe? Who the hell knows how a mind that sick actually works?”
Celia: “I’ll handle it.”
“Emi, get out. I’m serious. Get out of the city. Now. Take Robby if you need to. Just… go on vacation for a few days or something, let me take care of this, find out what he’s after.”
GM: “What about Mom? Lucy?”
Celia: “Take them.”
“Tomorrow is Friday anyway. Take a long weekend.”
GM: “I don’t know if Mom is gonna want to. She was… Celia, it was sick. You should have listened to her.”
Celia: “Tell me what she said.”
GM: “That she missed him. That she missed having a man in her life. That she missed having someone who was always there for her, to take care of her.”
Celia: “He beat her. Why does she not remember this? She just told me yesterday she had nightmares about him! He tried to take her fucking leg off!”
GM: “I don’t even know what goes through her head sometimes, Celia. I don’t even know.”
“There’s more, but it makes my tongue feel dirty.”
Celia: “Tell me.”
GM: “That it was so long ago. That she did a lot to upset him. That she held him back from his dreams. That it would be wrong, now, to repay his kindness with cruelty. That Jesus says to forgive. That gentleness and forgiveness is real strength.”
“Of course she blames herself.”
GM: “I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get laid for a decade.”
Celia: She tries to hold it back, but she can’t help the snort of laughter.
GM: “The only thing that seemed to snap her back to reality for a second was Lucy.”
Celia: “He can’t get his hands on her, Em. She’s the only kid in the family that isn’t fucked up. Take her and go, if Mom won’t leave.”
GM: “They ate breakfast together. He drove her to school. He also gave her… I don’t even remember what it was. Some bullshit present. She says Grandpa is really nice.”
Celia: “Yeah, well, she’s never seeing him again.”
GM: “Do you think that’s… that could be kidnapping. Technically.”
Celia: “She and Mom can go with you when you do your residency.”
GM: “If Mom doesn’t want me to take her.”
“God, I wish Stephen was here.”
Celia: “She’s my daughter,” Celia says flatly. Celia’s name is on her birth certificate.
“You think it’s kidnapping to take my daughter with my permission?” She lifts her brows at Roderick.
“That my mom could fight you on that?”
GM: Roderick, silently listening to the whole exchange with a grave expression, asks, “Who has legal custody of her?”
“Because who’s on the birth certificate doesn’t matter next to that.”
Celia: Celia presses the mute button on her phone so Emily can’t hear her.
“Diana is her legal guardian. I’m still her mom. We thought it would cause fewer problems if… well, if I were suddenly not around, anyway, not that I told her that.”
GM: “Okay. Family law isn’t my specialty, but if you want to do this legally, you need to petition the court to revoke your mom’s guardianship,” Roderick answers. “You can do that at any time.”
“I don’t need to say this sort of thing can tear families apart over the bitter feelings.”
Celia: “Emily stabbed Maxen,” Celia says flatly. “Do you think that’s going to go over well tonight when the sheriff wakes up and finds out his pawn has been attacked by someone connected to me?”
GM: “I know. I’m just bringing up all the facts.”
Celia: “I need to call him.”
GM: “Your dad?”
GM: “You still there?” comes Emily’s voice.
Celia: Celia unmutes her phone.
“Yeah, just thinking. I can revoke guardianship but it’ll probably cause some bitter feelings and Mom might push back. I can call Grandma, see if she can push it through, but…”
GM: “I don’t know what Mom might do if she thinks we’re stealing Lucy from her.”
“Like I said. She seemed to… come down to reality, a bit, when I brought up Lucy.”
Celia: “You need to go, Em. Even if they don’t.”
GM: “I don’t want to leave you guys.”
Celia: “Then tell her what will happen if he gets his hands on Lucy. And how he’ll ruin her life.”
GM: “You think I didn’t?”
Celia: “I’m sure you did.”
GM: “She said she wasn’t sure how she felt about Max and Lucy.”
“I pressed her. She said she’d rather ‘be cautious.’”
Celia: “Then she can’t see Maxen because she might let something slip.”
“Listen. I’ll call him, I’ll find out what he wants. But you seriously need to get out. He’ll come after you. Have you arrested.”
GM: “Yeah. That’s also…”
GM: “If you revoke her guardianship. She could reveal she’s Lucy’s real mom.”
“I didn’t want to say that over the phone, but yeah.”
GM: “Ah. Sorry. Doubt the NSA is recording this, though.”
Celia: It’s not the NSA she’s worried about.
She forces a laugh.
GM: “I don’t know if she’d do that or not, anyway. I really don’t know what’s going through her head right now.”
Celia: “Do you have somewhere you can lay low until we figure this out?”
GM: “Besides with Robby? I… think so, actually.”
GM: “I’ve mentioned Dr. Crawford to you, haven’t I? My clinical supervisor.”
Celia: The name rings a bell. She’s almost positive that’s the woman who called her about Diana after the ‘accident.’
GM: “I trust her.”
Celia: Celia lifts her brows at Roderick. Maybe he knows if ‘Crawford’ is a name they can trust.
GM: ’Don’t know her,’ he mouths.
Celia: ‘C-B-D,’ she mouths back.
GM: “Sorry?” he whispers.
Celia: “Uh, like at her house?”
GM: “I think she’d say yes,” says Emily. “If I said it was serious. We’ve… shared a lot.”
Celia: “Do you know what part of town she lives in?”
GM: “What does that matter?”
Celia: “I’m just trying to figure out the logistics.”
GM: “I’m not sure where, sorry. Robby’s in the CBD.”
Celia: “Where are you now?”
GM: “I’m at home. I didn’t want to leave Mom alone. In case he comes back.”
Celia: “Maybe a hotel…”
GM: “I don’t know if Mom’ll go along.”
Celia: “We don’t know what he wants and Lucy is in danger. So are you.”
GM: “Yeah, well, so’s Mom. I am not letting him get his hands on her again.”
“His literal hands. He was touching her.”
Celia: “You stabbed him. I’m honestly surprised you’re not sitting in jail right now.”
“Let me… let me call him, Em, and I’ll call you back.”
GM: “Shit. You’ll…”
“Well, what the fuck can it hurt, I guess.”
“Okay. Call me back.”
Celia: “I’ll talk to you in a bit. But pack a bag. Go sit at a coffee house or something.”
GM: “I will. Good luck.”
She hangs up.
Roderick lets out a low whistle.
Celia: Celia rubs a hand against her temple.
“Why would he not press charges? He hates Emily.”
GM: “So, you’re not technically pressing charges,” Roderick answers. “You, or he, would report what happened to the police, they might make an arrest, and the DA’s office decides whether or not to press charges from there. Obviously, there are a lot of factors at any of those stages that can influence how the process plays out.”
“I do have some pull at the DA’s office, though, if it comes to that and you need it. Your grandma could help too, as she’s a criminal judge. But it really depends what your dad does and how big a fuss he makes. Obviously it’s best if Emily never gets arrested at all, and there are reasons your dad might not go that route. But if he calls the cops while he’s still bleeding, pretty hard not to see an arrest happening.”
Celia: “Rod. I don’t care if your renfields have to stab me repeatedly. Stake me, cuff me, whatever, I need to be awake today to handle this.”
“Honestly please cuff me, I don’t want to lose control. When we get out. Okay?”
GM: “Absolutely. I’ll stake you, cuff you, whatever you need.”
Celia: “I just don’t know what he wants. Why now. Why not call the police immediately.”
“It doesn’t make sense.”
GM: “Bad political optics could be one. Undermines his tough guy public image for his ex-wife’s adoptive daughter to stab him, and for him to run to the police over it.”
“But I don’t know either. Like Emily said, I don’t know how a mind as sick as his works.”
Celia: “I’m… I’m gonna call the house phone, see if he’s there. I always wondered… I wondered, you know, if the sheriff… if he did something to my dad once he took him, if he fucked with his head, because the change… it was so sudden, Roderick, so sudden. What if my dad is still in there?”
GM: He frowns. “What do you mean, still there?”
Celia: “He looked at me once… I had just graduated, we were having dinner, he looked at me like he had no idea who I was.”
“I don’t know, I don’t fuck with heads like that, what if it’s some weird Pavlovian conditioning or something.”
“Like a sleeper agent. Gave him a new personality.”
GM: “That’s a pretty scary thought. I’m not an expert, though, on that kind of mindfucking.”
Celia: “Where’s a stiff when you need one.”
GM: “I don’t know if you’d want to involve her, but… Coco’s always given me good advice, when I’ve needed it.”
Celia: “I don’t think she should know we’re talking.”
GM: “I know. Especially right now, with…”
He doesn’t quite sigh.
“Yeah. Some things in the air. Just laying out all cards on the table.”
Celia: …what if Coco sent the hunters after Roderick? Throw childer to the pyres and all that.
Her jaw tightens. She wouldn’t do that. Right? Her own childe?
“Right,” she says after a minute. “I’ll see if I can get an answer from him, and… maybe talk to someone who knows more about it tonight if not.”
GM: “Okay,” he says.
“Pinch me a few times. I don’t want to nod off.”
Celia: She takes a breath she doesn’t need. Maybe one year she’ll remember that they don’t do anything for her, that they don’t calm her nerves, that they don’t center her at all.
“Tell your people first. About waking us. Can you text them?”
“…I’m just, uh, picturing one of us losing it in the trunk.”
GM: “That’s what the cuffs are for. But sure.”
He pulls out his phone and taps away.
Celia: “Now is the worst time to say this, but…”
“It’s a little hot waking up to cuffs, y’know.”
“Just, uh, just saying.”
GM: There’s a half-rueful smile.
“I’ll surprise you sometime, then.”
Celia: She’d giggle, but she’s busy thinking about her dad. Calling her dad. Talking to her dad for the first time in… since that night.
The night she died, when she made him rape his daughter.
She punches the number into her phone.
GM: The phone rings.
Each one feels like an eternity.
Then, a too-familiar voice.
The one that read her bedtime stories.
The one that called her stupid.
The one that said he loved her.
The one whose last words to her she doesn’t remember. Words he said to the daughter she made him rape. Before she never saw him again.
“Maxen Flores speaking.”
Celia: Seven years since she’s heard his voice.
Seven years since she’d lived under the same roof as him, when he belittled her, abused her, told her how worthless and stupid she is. She’d internalized it. Hears him, sometimes, when she does something particularly dumb. It’s a word she avoids saying whenever she can; she calls things ‘silly’ or ‘inane’ instead of stupid now.
She’d spent so long hating him. Had worked to bring him down. And then thrown it all away when her sire came calling.
She’d almost thought it would go to voicemail. Had maybe hoped it would go to voicemail.
His voice brings it all back.
“Hi, Daddy. It’s Celia.”
GM: “Hello, Celia. It’s very nice to hear from you again.”
She hears the man’s smile.
You can always hear a smile over the phone.
Celia: She shouldn’t feel anything.
She tells herself she doesn’t feel anything.
She’s always been good at lying.
“How are you?”
GM: “I’m doing very well, thank you. There’s a lot of work at Baton Rouge to keep me busy since Nathan went to D.C. It’s hard work. I enjoy the challenge.”
“And how about my little girl? I hear you’re running a business.”
Celia: “I am. A few years now. A spa. It’s going well. Same thing, really, keeps me busy managing the day-to-day.”
“I saw Logan the other day. He said… he said you…”
He said you were proud of me, Dad.
Celia clears her throat. “He said you might want to talk.”
GM: “Of course. A dad always wants to talk with his children. Logan mentioned your business was a spa and showed me its website. It looked very professional. He said a bunch of girls in his classes all know your name and won’t stop talking about you.” Another smile. “You sound like you’ve been very successful.”
“I’m very proud. Celia Flores, award-winning business owner at 27.”
Celia: Celia turns her face away from Roderick, though he can probably still smell the effect the words have on her.
“Thanks, Dad. I’ve worked pretty hard on it to get it to where it is now. Looking into a second location and everything.”
“I heard you took Lucy to school today.”
GM: “You are? That’s wonderful, sweetie. I’m glad you’re not resting on your laurels, either.”
“And yes, I did. Your mother wasn’t feeling well. I hope that was all right.”
Celia: “I wanted to say thanks. I couldn’t be there for her this morning. I’m… glad her grandpa could step in.”
GM: “You’re welcome, Celia. I was happy to meet her. She’s a very sweet child. She says her grandmother is already teaching her ballet.”
“And that her mother is why she’s pretty.”
Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.
“She’s gotten pretty good at it. Very graceful. She’s decided she’s going to be a ballerina in space, actually. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d just be kind of free-floating up there.”
GM: Maxen chuckles. “A space ballerina. Well, she’s six. She has time to dream.”
“And who knows? Maybe she will be an astronaut who also knows ballet. She can be anything she wants to be.”
Celia: He’d told her something similar once. That she could have anything she wanted. Anything she dreamed about, all he’d had to do was sell his soul to get it.
“Emily mentioned that she ran into you today at the house.”
With a knife.
GM: “She did, yes. I’m sure she told you the details.”
“I’m sure she’s very worried. She doesn’t need to be.”
Celia: “We’re both a little concerned, Dad.”
GM: “I’m glad to hear that you are, Celia. The cut wasn’t serious. I still do martial arts and your old man can take a hit. I disinfected the area, slapped on a bandage, and went in to work.”
“I told Emily that I didn’t see any need to involve the police. She’s obviously very dear to you and your mother.”
Celia: “That’s very magnanimous of you, Dad. She’s been there for me a lot. Mom and I. And Lucy, too. We’d all be upset if something were to happen to her because she reacted poorly when startled. Shall I tell her she’s forgiven, then? No hard feelings?”
GM: “Please do. I’d also appreciate if you could tell her that I apologize for startling her, and for any disruption today’s events might’ve caused to her studies. Med school is enough stress on its own and I’m sure she doesn’t need any more.”
“Lucy said that she’s going to be a doctor soon.”
Celia: “She is, yes. She graduates soon and will be starting her residency. She probably could have looked at the cut for you if she had been thinking clearly. I’ll let her know, though. Glad we could talk about it without involving others.”
GM: “Me too. I’m at work now and have to get going, but I’ve enjoyed talking with you, Celia. Give me a call if you’d like to again.”
Celia: “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”
GM: “I’d love to,” he smiles. “How about we take your mother along, for a family meal? We could go somewhere special.”
Celia: “I was hoping it could just be the two of us.” There’s a brief pause. “I miss you, Daddy.”
GM: “I’ve missed you too, sweetie. Just us, then. Where would you like to go? August, Galatoires, The Grill Room?”
“Oh, never mind, actually. The Grill Room closed with the rest of the Windsor Court.”
Celia: “Galatoires, maybe. Or there’s a seafood place near there… something Fins, I’ve been meaning to try. I hear their swordfish is the best in the state.”
GM: “GW Fins. All right, it’s a date. Can you do this Saturday at 7?”
Celia: “I have a standing client at 6, but if you can push it to 7:30 I’ll be right on time.”
GM: “7:30 it is. I have to go now, Celia. I love you.”
Celia: “I love you too, Daddy.”
Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016
Celia: Celia glances over her shoulder at Roderick.
GM: He looks like a motionless corpse, in the clutches of daysleep.
Celia: She dials Emily.
GM: “How’d it go?”
Celia: “He’s being weird. Something’s up. Get out of the city until I can figure it out.”
“He wants something, I just don’t know what it is yet.”
GM: “I’m not leaving Mom.”
Celia: “Then take her with you.”
GM: “I also have med school. If he goes to the cops, you can’t run from the law.”
Celia: “I’m not worried about him going to the cops, I’m worried about him sending some Blackwatch thug after you.”
GM: “Well that’s stupid, that’s illegal. If I were going to go after me, I’d go to the cops.”
“What do you mean, though, that he’s being weird? What’d he say?”
Celia: “He told me he loves me.”
Celia: “Em, please trust me. Something is going on and I don’t want to have to say ‘I told you so’ if he breaks your legs.”
“And I will. I’ll look right at you and tell you that I told you so. And then you’ll get mad at me. It’ll be a whole thing.”
GM: “Fine. I won’t get mad at you for being right and telling me so.”
Celia: “Take tomorrow off from school, tell your professors there’s a family emergency, and just… go to Houston or Atlanta or something.”
“You’ll be back on Monday.”
GM: “Okay, I’ll stay with Robby. He does HEMA, he’s a tough guy despite the glasses. If your dad sends a Blackwatch thug, great! That could get him in a lot of trouble!”
Celia: “Why don’t you just ask him to move up game night, and Randy and I can come over tonight to hang out. Just in case.”
“We’ll play your… World of Shadow thing.”
GM: “It’s a lot of fun. But okay. I’ll ask him if he can run a one-shot.”
“We have a regular group he GMs an ongoing campaign for.”
Celia: “I’m looking forward to it. I’ll bring snacks. And… I have a friend who might be into it, too, if you think he can run for four?”
GM: “Oh, sure. Four is the normal size group. Who’s the friend?”
Celia: “Just a guy,” Celia says vaguely.
“I think you’ll like him, though. If he’s free. I dunno. He might not be into it. I’ll let you know for sure so Robby doesn’t prep something for too many people.”
GM: “Thanks. Advance notice is helpful.”
Celia: There’s a brief pause. Then, “I kind of like him, Em. With everything going on with Randy lately it’s been… I dunno.”
GM: “Mom told me about the talk you two had.”
“What’d Randy say, by the way, when you talked with him?”
Celia: “I just don’t think he’s ever going to like me the way I like him.”
“And that hurts, you know, to spend all this time pining after him. And I’m just tired of it.”
“I’m young, I’m cute, I’m successful. Why doesn’t he like me?”
GM: “Yeah. You sure you want to bring him still? Are you guys done?”
“And he should! You’ve been together for years, Mom is right. He needs to shit or get off the pot.”
Celia: “He didn’t say much. I think he’s still thinking things over. We got into it that night after dinner. It’s been kind of strained.”
“Maybe I won’t bring him. That’d probably be awkward.”
GM: “It kinda is without knowing if you’re gonna stay with him, yeah. And it sounding more like a no.”
“Oh, uh. Something else. Mom threw out her pain meds.”
Celia: “She… what? Why?”
GM: “She said they were making her say crazy things.”
“She needs those.”
GM: “That’s what I told her.”
Celia: “I’m looking into a specialist for her leg. Maybe she won’t in the future, but there’s been some research lately… I’ve been working with someone in Texas who’s been doing some innovative stuff and I thought maybe I could bring Mom out sometime, but until then… she needs her meds.”
GM: “I asked some more, and she said she told you some really crazy things yesterday.”
Celia: “She said that she’s been having nightmares. About Lucy.”
GM: “She did. Yeah. This was a full-blown night terror, whatever it was.”
“I don’t know there’s a lot to do for her leg, though. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Researched about it.”
Celia: “Maybe some trazodone to help her sleep at night. I know it’s got weird dreams as a side effect, but it’s an anti-depressant and I’ve wondered for a while if she is.”
GM: “Depressed? I don’t… think so. She’s generally pretty happy.”
Celia: “Her whole life is wrapped up in her kids, Em. That’s… depressing.”
“I still think she needs to get laid.”
GM: A beat.
“It is, yeah. And she… agreed. About the kids.”
Celia: “I’m handling it. Just gotta keep her away from him until then.”
“I think, honestly, getting out of the city would be the best thing for her. I don’t know what residency programs you’re looking into, but something out of state… take them with you, you know?”
GM: “Uh… that’s kinda problematic.”
“I’m trying to finagle things to stay in the city. Robby’s here, Mom and Lucy are here, you’re here.”
“Obviously I want you here. I’m just worried about all of this.”
GM: “I know. I don’t think moving is an option, though. Mom and Lucy have their whole lives set up here. Mom’s got seniority at a job she really likes and McGehee’s a really good school. It’ll open a lot of doors for Lucy. Tuition’s normally 20k a year, but since Mom’s a teacher there, we pay basically nothing.”
“She always says that’s one of the job’s big perks. Makes her 40k salary effectively 60k, for as long as Lucy’s enrolled.”
Celia: “I know, I know. I guess I’m just… I saw how bad it got before, you know, and I’m ready to just cut and run when you or Lucy or Mom are in danger.”
GM: “I don’t want to cut and run. I’d rather stand and fight.”
Celia: “And I can’t help but think that’s what this is with Maxen.”
GM: “I know. I wish I hadn’t stabbed him.”
“I just saw him there, his arms around her, without any warning, and just freaked out.”
Celia: “He said something about being able to take a hit and slapping a bandage on it. He sounded okay. For whatever that’s worth.”
“But yeah. I’d have done the same.”
GM: “That makes me feel a little better.”
“I don’t know if him being okay does or not.”
“Fuck Logan, by the way. Stupid cockbag meathead.”
Celia: “I honestly have no idea why he thought that was a good idea.”
“He was pushing for Maxen and I to reconnect but I don’t know why he would do that.”
GM: “He still thinks it was a good idea. He says he’s tired of our family not speaking to each other.”
“Sorry, your family.”
Celia: “Ugh. I’ll talk to him, too. Knock some sense into him.”
“And you’re part of the fam, Em. Our crazy is your crazy. You’re welcome.”
GM: “I don’t know that he thinks so.”
“But hey, he’s not why I joined.”
Celia: “It’s because you think I’m cute, isn’t it.”
“Oh, yo, speaking of lesbian jokes. So Mom freaked out yesterday when she thought she saw the one girl at Lucy’s class kissing another girl. I’ll tell you more about it tonight, though.”
GM: “Wait… first graders? It couldn’t have even been actually gay. At that age.”
Celia: “No, no, the older one.”
GM: “Oh, her dance class? Aren’t they still pretty young?”
Celia: “No, the sisters were all there. The lawyer one. Caroline.”
GM: “Oh, that dance class. That other one. Yeah, Mom told me about it. But not about any girls kissing.” A frown. “Caroline’s a lesbian?”
GM: “Well, I guess if a Republican vice president’s daughter is too, why not a Malveaux.”
Celia: “Soon it’ll be the it thing to do.”
GM: “We’d better get ahead of the curve. You can dump Randy and be my lesbian lover.”
Celia: “I asked you this days ago, darling.”
GM: “Hey, I don’t do cheaters. That was before you decided Randy was out.”
Celia: “My bad, babe. I’ll get you a ring and everything now that we’re official.”
GM: “We’ll have to keep it secret to stop Mom from freaking. Forbidden love.”
Celia: “Very sexy. I’ll write you long poems about how beautiful you are.”
GM: “That’s an objective fact with where you work. That $50 shampoo you started me on is like a crack habit. I can’t stop using it.”
Celia: “One of the ingredients is actually a derivative of heroin that absorbs through the skin. If you stop using it you’ll get the shakes.”
GM: “Robby doesn’t even notice it. I’m like, ’don’t you like my hair?’ and he’s just, ‘yeah, your hair’s great.’”
“But whatever, I make it pretty for me first.”
Celia: “Boys never notice the things we do to make ourselves look good. But the minute we stop they say something’s different. Skip a full face of makeup one day and it’s, ‘you look tired.’”
“Did I tell you. Hold on. Did I tell you.”
GM: “Did you tell me what?”
Celia: “This one time I bought this new red lipstick, real vibrant, and this idiot boy, he was like, ‘boys don’t like red lipstick.’ And I was like what? Like, excuse me, do you think I dress myself and do my face for your viewing pleasure?”
“Furthermore, you are one boy, please fuck off with your opinion that you think speaks for everyone with a penis.”
GM: “I know. I had to correct Robby about that once, too. ‘Excuse me, I’m the one who spends 24/7 with my face, I make it look good for me.’”
Celia: “Want me to beat him up for you?”
GM: “Ha ha. You can spare him this time. He’s sweet, just was a giant nerd growing up and didn’t learn this stuff until later.”
Celia: “I think a lot of men don’t realize that women dress for themselves… and other women. Not them.”
“But what do I know, I’ve only had a vagina for 27 years.”
GM: “Wellll, there are some people with vaginas who are pretty clueless about vaginas.”
GM: “‘Good girls don’t have orgasms.’”
Celia: “There’s no biological reason for it, apparently.” She rolls her eyes.
GM: “I had to explain that to David once, how female orgasms actually have an evolutionary purpose. And aren’t just extraneous like tonsils.”
Celia: “Yeah, well, guess where he heard that.”
GM: “I don’t think Maxen would even say the word ‘orgasm.’”
Celia: “Tell you what, though, that first time… when it happened with Stephen, you know,” Celia drops her voice, as if Roderick can hear her, “I was like… whoa. Literal stars. No one prepared me for that.”
GM: “Had you ever masturbated before then?”
Celia: “No. I saw some photos once.”
GM: “Huh. Well, I’ve heard about a couple people who had sex before they learned to masturbate.”
“My first orgasm when I masturbated felt amazing. Still remember it. Yours must’ve felt even better coming from a guy.”
Celia: “Yeah it was… like awkward, you know, I mean I knew what the pieces were, but not what it felt like, so he was like… kneeling between my legs, with his mouth, and I swear my face was like beet red, and then it just… happened. And then we had actual sex afterward and it happened again and…”
There’s a giddy smile on her face that she can’t help. She’s glad Roderick is asleep and not listening to her gush about their first time together. “Sorry if that’s TMI.”
GM: “Ha ha, no, it’s fine. That’s really sweet he gave you oral first, though. You must’ve been pretty intimidated to have a dick inside you, growing up in Maxen’s house and not even getting off to porn first.”
“Good way to loosen you up.”
Celia: “It was. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to fit.’ I almost cried, honestly, and he just… he like just knew that I was freaking out even though I was pretending not to, but he knew it was my first time and… it was really sweet. Magical, and all that. He was… he was pretty much the best, really.”
GM: “Yeah…” Emily says, more than a little sadly.
“You and him were great.”
Celia: “I wish I’d been a better girlfriend to him.”
GM: “Blame your dad. Shitty home life drags down everything.”
Celia: “I could blame a lot of things. I made some bad choices, too. Can’t just pawn it all off on my dad.”
GM: “Fair. I did too.”
“I’d rate you a pretty good human being overall, though.”
“10/10, would drive across town with a bleeding ass again.”
Celia: Abrupt laughter cuts off her heartfelt reply. “Thanks, Emi. I’ll be sure to call you if it ever happens again.”
GM: “Let’s hope not.”
“Ugh. I can’t believe he’s back.”
Celia: “He’s not. We’ll handle it.”
GM: “I stabbed him. Mom’s gushing about him. Lucy likes him.”
Celia: “Yeah, well, tell Mom if he can get her off she can date him again.”
“Since that won’t happen, it’s a moot point.”
GM: “Okay, never having an orgasm is better than getting an orgasm from Maxen.”
Celia: “I’ve still got that guy to set her up with. I’ll see if I can arrange it sooner rather than later.”
“I’m kind of, uh, squicked out thinking about my dad and orgasms, to be honest.”
GM: “Spoiler alert, your parents have had sex.”
GM: “And your dad came. Your dad had an orgasm inside your mom.”
Celia: “How many times do you think they tried for all of us?”
“I bet that they banged a lot for Logan. Everyone else was two years apart. Straggler.”
GM: “I still can’t believe she never had an orgasm when there’s walking proof he had at least six.”
But hey, who’s counting.
“Maybe they actually just, like, pulled it out of him with a syringe. And turkey basted her.”
GM: “Doesn’t the Bible say turkey basters are a sin somewhere?”
Celia: “The Bible says everything is a sin. Can’t even look at someone sideways without being sent to Hell.”
“Also, no, since it was written before that modern miracle.”
GM: “Was it? I could swear it was written only yesterday, from how people like Maxen talk about it.”
“You also might as well do all the sins once you’ve done one, because what are they going to do, send you to Hell twice?”
Celia: “See, that’s where they get you. It’s like a little loyalty program where you punch your card, right, but once you make that first punch your chances are shot, so you might as well go balls deep.”
GM: “At least Dante’s Inferno ranks the sins.”
Celia: “Pretty sure he ripped off Virgil.”
“But he ripped off Homer, so whatever I guess.”
GM: “Speaking of balls deep, I hope your new guy is tall.”
“Robby is tall and that makes things fun.”
Celia: “Does he bend you like a pretzel, Em?”
GM: “And all that HEMA practice gives him a reaaally tight ass…”
Celia: “I’ll make sure to check it out tonight. Don’t mind my wandering eyes.”
GM: “It’s okay if other girls look at the menu, so long as they don’t order.”
Celia: “Not even a sampler?”
GM: “You wish. Go find a new guy who’ll do all the things Randy won’t.”
“How is the sex with him, by the way? Has that gotten worse?”
Celia: “He’s very eager to please.”
“Just… not sure it’s a long-term thing anymore.”
GM: “It’s clearly a long-term thing. It just isn’t going anywhere.”
“I’d like to get engaged to Robby, once med school’s over. Good benchmark.”
“And maybe get married when I’m a real doctor, if we’re still together. Real real doctor, that is.”
Celia: “I think you two are cute together.”
“Mom also might already be planning your wedding, don’t tell her I told you.”
GM: A laugh. “Yeah, and water is wet. Of course she’s planning my wedding.”
Celia: “That’s what moms are for. That and inviting the 50 cousins you haven’t seen in years.”
GM: “Ha. Riiiight. I’m maybe glad we’re skipping those.”
“Though who knows, maybe I have a billion cousins out there.”
Celia: “Think of all that money they’d bring. Which wouldn’t pay for their plates. And their kids would puke on your dress. And they’d be offended that you sat them next to so-and-so.”
GM: “I’m also pretty sure they’d just ask for money if they were anything like my birth mom.”
Celia: “I’ve heard of those gift boxes for cards getting stolen at weddings, actually.”
“Also that sounds shitty. Sorry both our families are not the best.”
“Hook her up with Maxen. He has money.”
GM: “Our family’s the best. It just has some ugly branches that need pruning.”
“I wish I could do that though. Match made in hell.”
Celia: “Oh, is that what you were trying to do today? You missed.”
GM: “I’m sorry. Truly. Should’ve gone for the throat.”
Celia: “Next time.”
GM: A sigh. “I just want him out of our lives. We’d been getting along fine without him.”
Celia: “I know. I’ll find out what he wants and it’ll be over soon.”
GM: “So what’d he say, when you talked with him?”
Celia: “Not a lot. That Lucy seems like a great kid, that there’s no hard feelings and no need to involve the police, that he’s happy my business is going well, he’s busy with work, that kind of thing.”
GM: “That’s just so fucking surreal.”
Celia: “That’s why I don’t trust it.”
GM: “I wouldn’t trust it, whatever it was.”
“He lost his family privileges a long time ago.”
Celia: “Logan told me the other day that he thinks Mom and I leaving ‘left a hole in his heart.’ Since he never remarried or dated.”
GM: “Yeah right. He’s probably had a mistress or two stashed away. All the family values politicians do.”
Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me.”
What had Donovan said? That he’d supply Maxen with ‘other amusements.’ Christ, what a thought.
GM: “He divorced your mom in, what… 2000?”
GM: “Yeah. Guys don’t go without sex for that long.”
“But women like Mom do because they’re conditioned to be ashamed of it.”
Celia: “Pretty sure all women are conditioned to be ashamed of sex.”
“Which is why you get those girls who are like, ‘I own my sexuality,’ and use it as an excuse to sleep around and they just hate themselves as much as anyone else. Like they’re trying to prove a point.”
“There’s not even a word for boys who sleep around but we’ve got whore and slut and harlot and etc.”
GM: “Can’t there just be well-adjusted girls who like sex and don’t feel bad about it or are trying to prove anything with it? Can’t I be one of those girls?”
Celia: “Sorry, Em, you’re secretly repressed.”
GM: “Damn, oh well. That’s clearly why I joined your family. Birds of a feather.”
Celia: “I guess I just feel bad for any future partners of Logan and David.”
GM: “Oh, actually, there is one word which I think is funny. Boywhore.”
Celia: “Yeah but that just takes the girl word and slaps ‘boy’ in front of it.”
GM: “Still pretty gendered, but funny.”
“But yeah, I hope Logan doesn’t hit any more girls he goes out with.”
Celia: “I told him I’d help him find a better outlet for his aggression.”
GM: “Tell him to beat up his dad, that sounds like a great outlet.”
Celia: “I’d almost like to see that to find out who’d win.”
“Dad told me he still does martial arts.”
GM: “Of course he did.”
“Dunno. Logan’s younger, Maxen’s experienced. Logan’s a meathead but I suppose I’d root for him.”
“It’s sort of like how I’ll plug my nose to vote for the crooked corporate shill, if she wins the primary, over the fascist xenophobe. I can’t believe Mom’s only reason she didn’t vote for him in the Repub primary is ‘he is not a gentleman.’”
Celia: “Yeah, well, Mom is… a little backwards sometimes.”
GM: “Mom came to 2016 in a time capsule from the 1950s, sometimes.”
Celia: “Maybe she’s a time traveler. Her purpose was to bring us together so we could… do something fabulous.”
GM: “Ha. What have we done that’s fabulous enough to be worthy of this chronological dimensional convergence, you think?”
Celia: “Um, excuse me, have you looked in a mirror lately? Darling, we’re gorgeous.”
“We spread our fabulousness by merely existing.”
“People should bow before us. They are blessed to be in our presence.”
GM: “Oh, of course. You know that it’s just so easy to take for granted when no other mortals compare.”
Celia: “We are truly divine.”
“Anyway, Em, I’m gonna let you go. Lay low until tonight and we’ll hang out and make our boys worship us and whatnot. Maybe carve some marble statues. Write some epic poems. However the Greeks did it.”
“Actually, I have a place you can stay at today. I’ll have Alana drop off the key and the address. It’s in the Quarter, so we’ll be close to Mom tonight. You can invite Robby over when he gets off work. Tell him to bring his nerd gear. Are there foam swords? ’Cause I can get down with some foam swords.”
She has two texts to send before she passes out again. Rod—ugh, he needs a better nickname—said his ghouls would wake her, but… well, she’d prefer not to be stabbed repeatedly if she can help it. It heals, sure, but that doesn’t make it enjoyable.
GM: “I’m pretty sure they did it by killing their dads and marrying their moms. Or getting torn apart by crazed maenads. Or doing it up the rears of young boys. The Greeks were weird.”
Celia: “That’s depressing, thanks.”
GM: “Okay though, that sounds good. I’d rather stay close.”
“Oh, one other thing.”
“Well, two other things.”
GM: “Come over. Lunch, dinner, whatever. You really should check in on Mom yourself.”
Celia: “Yeah. I’ll be by.”
GM: “And when you do, let her see you eating something. Mom’s really torn up about how you won’t eat her cooking. She’s from the ‘50s, so it’s a big deal to her. And she’s really hopeful that you finally will if she makes something keto.”
Celia: “I just remember… back in college, she was so poor I had to get groceries with my allowance and bring them over, and she used to foist things off on me, and I always felt bad because she didn’t have anything. And I know it’s better now, I know, but sometimes when I see her… I can’t help but think about it.”
GM: “Mom is not at all short for money these days. She isn’t Maxen, but she could lose her job and we’d still be okay for a while.”
Celia: “I know, Em. That’s why I never said anything to her. I guess I just feel like the whole thing is my fault sometimes, so why should I let her take care of me when I couldn’t take care of her.”
GM: “I get that, and that is nice of you. But this is how you take care of her. By making her feel valued through feeding her kids, because she’s from the ’50s.”
“It really gives her genuine pleasure to see me and Lucy eating her food.”
Celia: “All right, all right.”
GM: “Also, about keto. You’d be amazed how much they don’t teach us about nutrition in med school, considering the health impacts it has. But I try to do my research.”
“I’m obviously not your doctor, or anyone’s doctor. But unless a health professional has prescribed you a keto diet, you don’t need to eat keto. It’s like the gluten-free craze. Only a pretty small subset of people actually benefit from it. For everyone else it’s just the latest fad diet.”
Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know that. I thought there was a whole fat loss through ketosis thing.”
“It sounded too good to be true.”
GM: “Most diets are. The secret to weight loss is more exercise, more fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a caloric deficit.”
“You also don’t need to lose weight. You’re perfectly thin.”
Celia: “I thought maybe Randy thought I was fat. And that’s why he was being weird.”
GM: “Fuck him for that too, then.”
Celia: “He didn’t say that, I just… you know. Whatever.”
“I’m going to be 30 soon. Not getting any younger.” Celia forces a sigh.
“Someone told me once that when a woman hits 21 it’s basically all over.”
GM: “And with men they get better as they age, like fine wines. It’s a sexist double standard.”
“But seriously, you’ve already gone through so much to get over the stupid views on sex your dad drilled into you. Don’t fall for female body-shaming too.”
“You look great and you don’t need to diet.”
Celia: “Thanks, Em. I’ll keep that in mind. You’re right.”
“I got caught up in the whole Instagram perfect body thing.”
GM: “You’re welcome. Can I tell Mom she doesn’t need to make all your meals keto now? Because it actually is less healthy than a normal balanced diet.”
Celia: “Yeah. Just don’t tell her why, please. I don’t want her to know I worry about her.”
GM: “I won’t. I’ll just tell her I talked you out of the latest woo diet.”
“At least you weren’t into paleo. That drives me even crazier.”
“Like, have you looked at pictures of actual paleolithic fruits and vegetables? They’re almost completely different species. We’ve been genetically engineering the plants we eat for thousands of years. It is literally impossible to eat the same diet as a caveman.”
Celia: “I’ve heard that they’re actually completely different, uh, species now.”
“Is species the right word? For a plant?”
“Anyway yeah all the modification. Bananas aren’t bananas, tomatoes aren’t tomatoes, nachos aren’t nachos…”
GM: “Species is. And yeah, they really aren’t. Bananas used to have giant hard seeds throughout them. Peaches were about 60 times smaller and sour rather than sweet. Corn was literally 1,000 times smaller and dry like potato. Idiots who say they eat paleo diets don’t even know what a paleo diet is.”
“And there’s a reason our ancestors dropped the ‘paleo diet.’ Plants tasted worse and weren’t as nourishing.”
Celia: “Yeah well, throw some buzzwords in front of anything and you can get people into it.”
“A few celebrity sponsors and you’ve enchanted the masses.”
GM: “We think ubiquitous technology will make more people believe in science, but sometimes all it does is spread disinformation. Dr. Crawford and I like to bitch about that together.”
“But anyway, how’s 6 for you to come by today?”
Celia: “Can’t do six. Meeting with… uh, well, the guy whose friend might take Mom out. But after I can.”
GM: “I dunno Mom’s interested in other guys right now with Maxen in her head. That was already a hard sell when he wasn’t.”
Celia: “I do talk to him about more than Mom, you know.”
“Anyway, this will pass.”
GM: “Oh, who is he?”
Celia: “He’s a cop, actually.”
“Long story, I’ll tell you tonight.”
GM: “Okay, see you then. Love you.”
Celia: “Love you too, Em.”
Celia hangs up. She opens her messages once more and begins to type a text to Alana, but before she can say more than Hey—she slips back into the sweet oblivion of daysleep.
Thursday afternoon, 10 March 2016
GM: Pain stabs through Celia. She sees red. She screams and howls and thrashes. She calms down.
“It’s a crappy way to wake up, isn’t it?”
She’s handcuffed in spread-eagle position on a bed in a bedroom somewhere. The window shades are tightly drawn and there’s a blanket duct-taped over them. Roderick’s sitting next to her.
He undoes the cuffs after he sees she’s calm.
Celia: Handcuffed. Bed. Spread eagle. It’s familiar. Too familiar. She thrashes, rages, snarls—
And eventually her Beast wears itself out. Her body collapses back onto the bed, and only once she’s released, when his voice washes over her, does she let herself look around.
“Can’t beat the view, really.”
Her eyes land firmly on him. She winks.
GM: He smiles.
“We’re at one of my renfields’ places. It wasn’t designed to host licks,” he glances at the duct-taped blanket, “but we should be safe here.”
Celia: “Thanks. For bringing me. Waking me.” She sits up, edging away from the window as if she expects the blanket to tear itself off the wall at any moment.
Then, a second later, “Phone?”
“What are you doing tonight?”
GM: He nods at her first question.
He hands her the phone.
“Like I said. Going back to my old haven with my krewe and my renfields. Moving everything. Disposing of the bodies.”
He effects a sigh.
“I’m not looking forward to that.”
“The walls were soundproofed—habit how I was whispering—so I don’t think anyone heard the violence, but we can’t leave three corpses there forever.”
Celia: Celia unlocks the phone and sends a text to Alana.
Need car towed. Garden District, 1415 Third Street. Take it to spa. Do not go yourself. TOW. Go to mom’s house. Give Emily key to my place. J. Give address. Make sure it’s clean pls. ♡
Her attention returns to Roderick.
“Do you know how?”
GM: “Body disposal?” He grimaces. “Yeah. Coco went over it. Cut them into pieces. Smuggle them out. Weigh them down and dump them in the Mississippi.”
“The water’s incredibly dirty and the current is fast-flowing. Pretty unlikely to get spotted before they’re carried out to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Or just take a boat out to the Gulf, actually, and dump them there.”
Celia: “I, uh… I’d offer to help, but if your krewe will be there it might look… not good.”
GM: “Yeah. We could go back ourselves with our renfields if you’re dying to help take apart corpses, though.”
Celia: “I mean. I’d like to be there for you. To help you through it. Because I know how you feel, and I was part of the problem. But I… I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be around your krewe because of everything, and I’m worried that if we go back we might get jumped again by more, or I’ll fall asleep in the middle of it, or something stupid will happen and we’ll be in a worse situation.”
She wants their blood, too. Faces. Phones. Needs to find out who they are.
GM: “We could go back with just us and our renfields. Obviously, at night.”
“If I were a hunter I’d try to jump us during the day, like those guys.”
Celia: “I know. I agree. I just… have to take care of a few things before I do. I had someone looking into the people who jumped me and he wants to see me tonight, and with the whole Emily stabbing Maxen thing I’m trying to keep her safe so I invited her to Jade’s place under the guise of a game night.”
“I was going to invite you, actually. If you’re interested. It’s, uh, it’s kind of a nerdy thing.”
She glances at her phone, to see if her new ‘friend’ has made any more contact attempts, or if the number has ceased scrambling. If so, she texts a winky face back.
GM: Her ‘friend’ has sent none.
Celia: Well her friend gets a winky face.
GM: He looks faintly amused. “Game night? Like, board games?”
“Emily knows my face though. I’m supposed to be dead.”
Celia: “World of Shadow.”
“You forgot that your girlfriend is a master magician with makeup.”
GM: “I’ve heard of it. There were a couple lawsuits against the parent company, Black Dog Games, over the deaths of some people who were players.”
Celia: “…why?” She tries not to look too uncomfortable about calling herself his girlfriend.
GM: “Why there were lawsuits? Alleged behaviors on the parts of the game developers that contributed to the deaths. In 2004 some people locked themselves in the company offices and got… well, it doesn’t matter. I’d be down for game night. I trust my girlfriend to magic my face into looking different.”
He smirks faintly at the emphasis he places on those two words.
Celia: Her smile lights up her face.
“That’s pretty crazy about the game thing. Tell me more later, when the sun stops screaming in my ear about going back to bed. I can… I can meet you after, if that’s okay. I’m really, really concerned about Maxen’s friend coming after Emily if I’m not there. Even if I am there.”
Fuck, what is she going to do, stand up to the sheriff on her own? She’s banking on the fact that he doesn’t know where ‘Jade’ keeps her haven, but she wouldn’t put it past him to have taken that information from her at some point and mind-fucked her into forgetting.
“But. If you guys grabbed the phones from them, I got a guy who can get into them easy.”
GM: “We did. I also know some people who can get into the phones. Lot of sewer rat Anarchs, remember?” he smirks.
Celia: “Fuck the rats.”
GM: “They just don’t like torries because you’re all so pretty.”
Celia: “What did they make you do for them when you had to do the favor?”
GM: “Which favor?”
Celia: “For hacking to make Roderick real.”
“They told me I could owe them a favor and I just want to know what I’m getting into.”
GM: “Information. That’s what it always comes down to with them.”
Celia: “Might as well just give that to them now, then.”
GM: “I’m already giving them info by letting them hack the phones. They can screw off if they want more, but they probably won’t.”
Celia: “Not what I meant.”
“But… I dunno, I had a bad-run in with them. And I just don’t want to give them anything. And I trust my guy.”
GM: “Ah, well, they hate Toreador. How it is.”
Celia: “So I’ve noticed.”
GM: “I trust them enough though. They’re Anarchs. Coco and Opal are pretty tight.”
“Who’s your guy?”
Celia: “Same guy who helped me with the Maxen leak. He’s good with tech.”
GM: “And he’s…?”
“Because my guess is Lebeaux. And thanks, but no thanks to that.”
Celia: “Sometimes, Roderick, I don’t know what he is. But I think he’s looking out for me.”
GM: “I’m glad for you there, but I’d rather not involve Savoy’s people if I don’t have to.”
Celia: “I’m one of Savoy’s people,” she says quietly.
“And just because I say I know a guy doesn’t mean it’s someone who owes their loyalty to Savoy. I’m capable of making my own friends.”
“And you even said that Coco—” She cuts herself off with an abrupt shake of her head.
GM: “Yeah, but I’m not sleeping with any of Savoy’s other people.”
“And I said that Coco what?”
Celia: Celia casts a glance over her shoulder as if to make sure that the room is clear. She hesitates for only a second, then moves across the bed to deposit herself on his lap, leaning in close.
“You said she’s wrong,” she whispers.
GM: Roderick heaves an effected sigh.
“Look. That’s its own can of worms.”
“I’ll deal with that. I’ll deal with Dani. We’ll see what happens.”
“But I’m not jumping into bed with Savoy over some hunters’ phones.”
Celia: “I wasn’t going to give it to Savoy. Lebeaux treats me like I’m an idiot. Last time I brought him something he just—he told me that he wasn’t going to tell me, and I’m the one who got jumped for it, so why would I go running to him? And I don’t—I don’t want to involve the Nosferatu, they made me… they…” She turns her face away as red begins to leak from the corners of her eyes.
GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder. “They made you what?”
Celia: “That-that stupid monkey—” She wipes at her eyes, but it only smears the blood across her face.
GM: “Malo.” He frowns. Retrieves a tissue from the bedside table for her. “Did Gerald sic him on you?”
Celia can see his fangs protruding as he talks. Must be the smell.
Celia: Celia presses her hands against her face and shakes her head. Her body curls in on itself, shoulders hunching. When she speaks again her voice is small.
“I c-can’t tell you.”
GM: He holds her in both his arms, cradling her head against his chest.
“You can tell me anything.”
Celia: “Th-they… they surrounded me, and Abellard called me a slut, and he made his monkey… he made him…” A fresh wave of sanguine tears streak down her cheeks. She shakes her head again and again, as if that will make the memory stop.
GM: He still holds her. But he’s starting to look angry too.
“Made him what?”
Celia: He can’t get angry. He can’t. She’s already fought him off tonight, him and the hunters, she can’t do it again. Wounded, in the middle of the day? She’ll lose.
Celia presses herself against him. Touches her lips to his neck. Lets him feel the way her muscles tremble beneath her skin. Fear or apprehension or simply ready to bolt away if he loses control like he’s done so many times before.
“Don’t get mad.” On his lap. She’s on his lap, this Brujah that’s about to frenzy. There’s nowhere to go if he does. “Please don’t get mad. I’m fine. I’m fine. They didn’t hurt me, I’m here, I’m fine—”
Only they did hurt her. They hurt her. Caroline hurt her. Donovan hurt her. The hunters hurt her.
“I’m fine,” she says again. Quietly. Desperately. “It’s fine, he j-just… he just… humping, and b-beating when I fought back, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything, they said they’d tell everyone, they know things about me, who I am, don’t do anything, please—”
She needs him. Needs him to keep her safe, like he’d said he would. Needs him to protect her.
She tells him that. That she needs him. That she loves him. While she holds onto him with everything she has, refusing to back away from him even on the cusp of his oncoming rage, she stays. She trusts him. She’d told him that. Years ago. Last night. Trusts him not to hurt her. Not to let other people hurt her. So naked, vulnerable, wounded, she stays, murmuring that it’s okay, that she’s okay, that everything is okay. Over and over again she says it, walking him back from the brink.
GM: Roderick lets out a needless breath and runs a hand along her back.
“Relax. I’m not going to lose it. Okay? You’re safe. I’m in control. You don’t have to get scared every time I get mad over something.”
Veronica always said Brujah and anger went together like matches and gasoline.
But that would be nice to believe.
There’s a beat. He looks calm. Enough. He eyes her for a moment, as if to check whether she’s all there, then pulls her close against his chest again.
“Look. It still makes me pretty mad to think of anyone doing that to you. I won’t deny I wouldn’t mind getting you some payback. But you don’t need to be scared I’ll lose it. I know that’s par for course with them, and that they pull the same horrible shit on everyone. They’ve done it to Chris, Ryllie, even me when I was still pretty green. They’re basically all trolls. A whole clan of spiteful incel internet trolls who hate other people for not being hideous like them, or worse, being pretty. And it’s their loss. They look at you and see just another vain and shallow Toreador, instead of the inner light that I see. They’d like to defile you and they don’t even realize they can’t, because that part of you will always be beyond their reach.”
Celia: She’d like to believe that she doesn’t need to be afraid when he starts to get angry, but he’s tried to attack her twice in the past 12 hours alone, and twice more before that he had gotten ahold of her. But she nods to show him that she understands, that she believes him, and some of the stiffness leaves her limbs. She holds her tongue while he talks about them, how it’s normal for the rats to just be awful for no reason. She hadn’t even done anything to them, that’s what galls her the most.
“They certainly tried,” she huffs, but her voice has lost some of its petulance. Maybe it’s the explanation. Maybe it’s the “inner light” comment, the insinuation that she’s above them.
“Thanks,” she says when he’s done, the single word as heartfelt and genuine as she can make it. She does feel better about that situation, at least.
“I still don’t… I don’t want to involve them.”
“There’s a guy I know. He used to tutor me, actually. Back at your place… I think he’s the one who woke me up, who made you realize something bad was going on. He can hack like nobody’s business. He sent me a text…” Celia glances at the phone in her hand. The chill she’d gotten from it rushes through her again, makes her shiver.
“We made a deal once, and… I just think he’s looking out for me somehow. I can contact him, or… his people, maybe. And if not him there’s a girl I know who can do the same thing. Kind of a conspiracy nut, but relatively harmless.”
“Or… I could always try, I’ve done it before.”
GM: Roderick looks dubious. “Are either of them blooded? It’s probably not a good idea to have normal breathers looking at hunter stuff. I have no idea what they might find on those phones.”
Celia: “He woke me up to fend off hunters, Roderick, I’m pretty sure he is.”
“And I doubt they’re that blasé about what they keep on their phones, anyway. It’s probably all code.”
“Look, just… I’ll try tonight, before I head out. And if not… I don’t see many other options.”
GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean that alarm I got on my phone? The non-standard one?”
Celia: She shrugs.
“I don’t know. Maybe. It’s just a theory. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time. Last I heard he was in the hos…”
Is he dead?
GM: “…hospitality industry?” Roderick jokes.
But why would Emil want her to kill people? That’s what the text had said: kill them for me. It doesn’t make sense. But he’s the only person she knows with that level of skill, to just get into her phone like that…
“I… I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.”
“I can look at them, like I said, when the sun stops doing its thing.”
GM: “All right, why don’t you take a look at them first. Didn’t know hacking was among your talents.” A smirk. “Even many as those are.”
Celia: “Are you mocking me? Because I will withhold sex for, like, seventy years.” Her words lack heat, though, and the fact that she is (still) naked on his lap give lie to them.
“You’re gonna be all, ‘hey babe,’ and try to touch me and I’m just gonna smack your hands away—” There’s a whole fantasy here, where he grabs her by the wrists anyway, and she tells him about it.
She’s in the middle of describing what, exactly, she’d like him to do to her when sleep crooks a finger her way once more. She doesn’t yawn, not really, but she cuts herself off mid-sentence, curls against him as if they hadn’t spent the past five years apart from each other, and is out in seconds.