“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM
GM: After the time Celia’s spent with Dani, 4 AM is soon approaching. She has time to change back into her dress for Roderick, if she wants to. Dani asks what she’s dressing up for and where she’s going, but doesn’t raise any objections. “Only one bed in here, anyways.”
She asks, again, where she can go in the Quarter and the larger city, and if she can go more places during the day, when other vampires won’t be around.
“I’m so glad I found you, Celia. I really, really am,” she exclaims, giving her brother’s girlfriend a last hug. “I’m sorry how things turned out with Stephen, but… I think he’d understand, if he knew. And be happy that he was able to help your family.”
Celia: Celia clarifies the rules about the Quarter and the territory for her. She says that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to risk anything during the day, since ghouls are out and about. Not yet. Maybe once Celia finds out a few things for her. She gets Dani’s address and keys so she can visit the house in Riverbend and retrieve her belongings, though she doesn’t promise it’ll be soon. And she reminds Dani that it’s secret: Celia isn’t a vampire (even to other vampires, don’t tell even them, maybe especially them), vampires aren’t real, be careful not to be seen feeding. Take them into the bathroom rather than doing it in the middle of the club, that kind of thing. Also that she won’t be available during the day, but if she needs something to text and Celia will get back to her when she wakes up. She mentions that she’s free on Sunday or Monday for dinner if her dad wants to come to the Quarter. They can go out or Celia can host him here.
Celia hugs Dani close once her dress is back on, saying the same thing.
“I’m happy we found each other too, Dani. We’ll figure this all out together and make a plan. And… I think he’d understand too. Thanks for saying that. It means a lot.”
A few final goodbyes and Celia heads out to meet with Roderick. She has so much to tell him.
GM: Dani doesn’t look happy to limit her movements so much, but says she can do that for now as she passes off her keys and address. “I do still need to attend class, though… law school has attendance requirements.”
She says she’ll be careful hunting. She’ll call her dad and see what works for the D.A.
A drizzle starts outside outside. Dani looks around for an umbrella, so as not to ruin Celia’s pretty dress. The Toreador finds her haven much as it was when she returns at 4 AM.
Roderick arrives soon thereafter. Her lover looks glum and tired, but smiles when he sees her.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
He hangs up his coat, then scoops her up in his arms.
“What I said earlier. You’re not allowed to walk, in here. You’re too pretty to.”
Celia: She wants to know what it is that has him looking so glum, but she doesn’t want to ruin the mood. She’d almost expected him to fail to show, or to show up angry and berate her for letting someone else touch her, or say something rude about being able to fight his own battles. But there’s none of that, and the fight she’d been prepping for, the tightness in her shoulders, it all disappears as soon as he pulls her into his arms.
Her lips find his immediately, settling into his embrace with a little giggle.
“Is it silly that I missed you all night?”
GM: “No. It isn’t silly at all.” His answering kiss isn’t passionate, but it’s definitely… needful. He gives her a tired smile.
“Let’s get you onto the counter, it’s hard to molest my present when she’s in my arms like this.”
Celia: She can agree to that.
GM: Roderick carries her to the kitchen counter and sets her down, even placing her feet in the sink. His lips trace her cheek, her neck, and then her breasts as his hands appreciatively trace her her hips and rump. He finally lays his head against her chest for a long moment.
Celia: Celia pulls him close, stroking her hands across his chest and shoulders, then around the back of his neck and head. She cradles his face against her chest.
“Talk to me. What happened?”
GM: “Just a lot of… bullshit in Elysium.”
Celia: “Oh, did I miss something after I left?”
GM: He lays his head contently against her.
“The story. With the hunters.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t wince, but she wants to.
GM: “They wanted the details. All the details. Everything I could remember.”
“Guess the topic was a real hit.”
Celia: “Bet it made you look like a badass, though.”
GM: “I’m not proud of what I did there. I felt sick, boasting about it.”
Celia: She should have realized. Should have used something else. Anything else.
GM: “Chris congratulated me for losing my virginity.”
“That was a real hoot.”
Celia: Maybe the floor will swallow her.
GM: “Veronica and Adelais had a real time with it.”
Celia: “Were they cruel to you?” Sharpness in her voice that hadn’t been there a moment ago.
GM: “They’re cruel to everyone.”
“I guess this was mild, for them.”
GM: “Backhand barbs in all the compliments. I swear that only the harpies can make compliments still feel like put-downs, but like there’s nothing you can do except nod dumbly along.”
Celia: “You could dig back. Or divert their attention. They’re like dogs that see a squirrel. Chase after it.”
GM: “I guess,” he says heavily. “They just really liked the story with the hunters. I guess fuck hunters.”
“Coco… god. She drew it out.”
“The story. Brought everyone back to it, when other things started to come up.”
“So I had to just nod along, because, well, she’s my sire.”
Celia: Her lips purse.
“Why would she do that? She knows how you feel about it.”
GM: “Yeah. She still did. Asked a bunch of questions. Said a bunch of things. Just wouldn’t let the topic drop.”
Celia: “I thought she was better than the others, but the more you tell me about her the less I think that.”
“At least Veronica is upfront about being a bitch.”
GM: “She is better,” Roderick says defensively. “I’d rather have her than Veronica, I know that.”
Celia: Celia sighs.
GM: “She didn’t put me down or try to make me look stupid. Just… wouldn’t let it drop.”
Celia: “Was she fishing for details? To find out if you’d really been alone?”
GM: “I already told her all the details, before tonight.”
Celia: “Then why?”
GM: “That’s what I asked her, afterwards.”
“Well, ‘asked.’ More like yelled. We got into it.”
“She said she was looking out for me, that it raised my standing for Elysium to hear I’d killed those hunters. That it did, indeed, make me look like a badass, and other Kindred would respect me more. Killing hunters is a socially contributive thing for good Camarilla licks to do.”
Celia: Gee, Celia should show off her kill count then.
GM: “I told her how I wasn’t proud of it. That the whole thing made me sick.”
Celia: Tell them all how she made them kill themselves while she’d been cuffed.
Doesn’t sound like Coco cares much about what her childe wants. But Celia knows better than to say that.
GM: “There’s a quote from Foundation that I like. Sci-fi book I read a while ago, if you haven’t. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”
He shared it with her once as a mortal, too. Back in college.
Celia: “Did you say that to her, too?”
Celia: “How did that go over?”
GM: “She took it pretty calmly. Said she agreed, herself, but that Elysium doesn’t see it that way. That they hadn’t mastered their instincts and just liked to hear stories about how blood flowed, beyond the hunter aspect.”
“She said how violence is essentially entertainment. That it’s technically only an incompetent’s refuge if they’re trying to achieve an end that doesn’t need to involve violence. So the quote doesn’t actually apply.”
Celia: “Mmm.” A noncommittal sound at that.
GM: “You don’t agree?”
Celia: “I know better than to debate with you and Coco.”
“I just think that she could have let the talk fade. Bringing it back up looks… well. Like she’s reaching.”
It looks bad.
GM: “Without debate, the mind stagnates. It’s a fitness regimen for your brain.”
Celia: Of course they are.
Celia smiles politely.
GM: “She didn’t look reaching. She was… subtle. Just a word here or there, giving me extra spotlight. She let it drop after enough, but it would’ve dropped sooner without her.”
“Perks of having a primogen sire, I guess. More time in the limelight.”
Celia: Elder’s pet.
He’d be hunter chow if not for her.
GM: “I still yelled at her over how I wasn’t proud of that and didn’t want credit for it.”
Celia: And Coco didn’t care, she bets.
GM: “She said I needed standing and respect if I wanted to make a difference in Kindred society, and this was another stepping stone. She said they were already dead, so it’s not like I was hurting anyone.”
Celia: “…you don’t… you don’t think she…”
GM: “Think she what?”
Celia: “Nothing,” Celia murmurs. “I don’t even want to suggest it.”
GM: He looks up from her chest. “What?”
Celia: “How many people know about your haven?”
GM: “Her. My krewe. You, i…”
His mouth drops. “You are NOT saying…!”
Celia: Celia hadn’t said anything.
She’d just asked a question.
GM: “No! She wouldn’t do that! How can you even say that!?”
“She’s not just another elder like you keep making her out!”
Celia: “Roderick. Stop. I didn’t say that. I asked a question. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to figure out who has it out for you because you could have died. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Makes sense though, doesn’t it? Knows her childe can fend for himself. That his ghouls will help.
GM: “Why would my sire have it out for me,” he grumbles. “She wanted to ash me, she could do that with her own hands, easy.”
Celia: “Do you want to have a calm discussion about this?”
GM: “I am calm.”
Celia: “It’s not to get rid of you. It’s to use the fact that you killed them to your and her advantage. You look good. She looks good.”
GM: “She’s the one who taught me to fight. There’s no way I could take her i…”
Celia: “She knew you could handle it.”
GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything to that for a moment.
“She knew I was a virgin. That I didn’t want to kill.”
Celia: Celia stays quiet with him, her fingers moving slowly across the back of his neck.
What had he said about Coco? That when push comes to shove she’s still another elder. Life is cheap.
Maybe she’d been embarrassed by her virgin childe. Or maybe she’s playing a different game. Maybe he’s just the first childe to be thrown to the Inquisition.
“Maybe she didn’t expect you to kill them,” Celia finally offers. “And maybe if you hadn’t been worried about me you wouldn’t have.”
GM: “Don’t blame yourself for this,” Roderick says, shaking his head. “They attacked me, in my home, with lethal force. I’d have tried to take them alive, but I could’ve easily lost control. You know how I do that. How all my clan does that. Provoking a Brujah is not a smart thing to do if you don’t want someone getting seriously hurt.”
Celia: She’s been on the receiving end of those fists. She knows how true that is.
She shivers at the memory, but holds her tongue.
Doesn’t remind him what he did to her.
GM: Roderick effects a sigh and pulls her close again, rubbing his head against hers.
“I’m just glad I can come back to you, at the end of the night. My sweet and kind and dolled up present who’s too pretty to walk.”
Celia: Is that all she is?
She doesn’t put the thought into words.
“I like coming home to you. Knowing that you’ll be here.” Celia touches the side of his face. Her thumb traces across his lower lip. “I’m happy with you. Safe.”
GM: He smiles back.
“I am too. I feel safe with you.”
Celia: “Because I’m so tough?”
GM: He laughs. “Tough comes in a lot of flavors. But also safe because I can be who I really am, around you.”
Celia: Wouldn’t that be nice. To have someone she can be herself with.
Who is she with Roderick? She doesn’t even know anymore.
“I’ll always be here for you. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world or city. This, here?” Celia touches his chest. “This is home.”
GM: “This is home,” he murmurs, nuzzling her neck.
“Now, I promised I’d clean your shoes, didn’t I?”
Celia: “I recall you mentioning you’d worship me. With your mouth.”
GM: “Mmm, so I did. Do you still want me to clean your temple, or do you want to be worshiped, right away?”
Celia: “That depends. Am I allowed to tell everyone that I made you clean the soles of my shoes for me?”
“I’ll say we arm wrestled. And I won.”
GM: “Never. They’d all beg for the privilege too, once they realized that was allowed.”
“I’d have to fight them all, to keep them from your shoes.”
Celia: “I didn’t realize you had a thing for ladies’ shoes.”
Celia squints at him. “Do you still have my panties in your pocket?”
GM: He smirks and fishes them out.
“Put them back in just for this occasion.”
Celia: “A souvenir from your conquest. Worship away, loyal follower. I shall not dictate the terms of your service.”
GM: “All right then.” He picks her off the counter and slings her over his shoulder, ass in the air.
“I guess I’ll enjoy my conquest…”
Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: Enjoy it he does. Celia doesn’t feel his seed fill her womanhood, when she can tell how he hits his climax from the way he pumps faster. He goes limp, after that, but the lack of cum seems to have its advantages (beyond the diminished mess), because he’s hard again in no time at all. The lovers know pleasure in one another’s arms until the sun rises, and Roderick pulls Celia against his chest in familiar spooning position. They wake up after eight hours that pass in a second to their clothes still on. It’s not like the two corpses sweat or fart or smell or move in their sleep.
“Mmm,” he murmurs into her ear when she stirs. His arms still encircle her waist. “Someone’s up earlier.”
Celia: Good thing, too, because she’d meant to talk to him about a handful of things earlier and he’d distracted her with the promise of sex.
Her Beast yowls in her ear as soon as she wakes, making sure she knows that it, too, is hungry. That it doesn’t appreciate being ignored and not having its needs met while she fucks her lover. Where’s the blood, it demands.
Celia snuggles back against Roderick’s chest, ignoring it for a moment.
“I couldn’t let you shave my head,” she says seriously. “I have an important meeting today. Can’t look silly.”
She checks the time. Early. She doesn’t even need to rush to get ready to meet her father.
“What are you doing tonight?”
GM: “Haven-hunting, first. That meeting anything I can help with?”
Celia: “Just stay with me forever.”
GM: “That’s tempting. But it’s tempting fate to come into the Quarter every night, even this close to the border.”
Celia: “We’ll dig a tunnel.”
GM: “Mmm. Bad idea, in this city. Same reason we don’t have basements.” He gives her a squeeze. “You can come stay at my place, though. You’ll always be welcome there.”
Celia: “Probably shouldn’t be seen visiting you that much. Don’t need people talking.”
GM: “Turn into a cat. I’ll give you belly rubs inside my haven.”
“What would you want to be? If you could change.”
GM: “Oh, change what?”
Celia: “Your form. If you learned how to shift.”
GM: “Hmm. Interesting question.”
“Wolf is a classic. I’ve always liked dogs.”
Celia: “I could see that.”
GM: “There’s a lot to admire in wolves, too.”
Celia: “You’d be a corgi. Maybe a pomeranian.”
GM: “A corgi?”
Celia: “A little fluffy thing. I could put you in my purse.”
GM: “Ha. Haven’t heard of any licks turning into toy dogs.”
Celia: “That’s because they’re embarrassed.”
GM: “There’s worse places to spend your Requiem.”
“Though if I’m going to be something small, I’d rather be something small enough for you to stick between your bra…”
Celia: “Like a spider?” Celia makes a face.
GM: “Ew. I’ll pass.”
Celia: “Same. Don’t think I’d let one in my bra anyway.”
“They can’t hurt you, yada yada. Still gross.”
GM: “They are. Anyways, this meeting anything I could help with?”
Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says after a moment of consideration. “It’s with… um. It’s with my dad.”
GM: “Your dad,” he says slowly.
Celia: “When I called him the other day. We set it up. About Emily stabbing him. You fell asleep before I could tell you.”
“Which is a shame because I told Emily how good you were in bed. You missed it.”
GM: He gives a slight smile, subdued by obvious thoughts over Celia’s meeting with her father.
Celia: “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I don’t know what he wants.”
“I haven’t seen him since… you know. "
GM: “Yeah. So what do you want to get out of it?”
Celia: “I want him to leave my mom alone. I want to know what he did to Lucy when he drove her to school. I want to make sure he isn’t going to go running to his master about Emily stabbing him.”
GM: “Okay. Those are all good goals.”
“Do you think you can get him to?”
Celia: “I’m not sure,” she admits. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly acting nice. If the sheriff pulled his talons out of his head or what.”
“People don’t just change.”
GM: “I’d assume the worst with him. He made your and your mom’s lives living hells. He’s a scumbag rapist child abuser.”
Celia: “I know. It just doesn’t make sense. Why now. Why come after her now. I mean, Logan is the one who brought him over, but… it just… Logan told me that he misses us, that he’s proud of me, that he never remarried or anything. And my mom…” Celia shifts in his arms, looking up at him.
“She had a nightmare about falling. And Maxen taking Lucy away. And she did fall. And now I wonder if Maxen is going to come after Lucy.”
GM: “He thinks she’s your daughter, right? You’re positive?”
Celia: “Yes. But he was alone in the car with her. What if he took a hair or something?”
GM: “Hm. I was about to ask why he’d want to do a paternity test, but… you’ve not said who the father is. Maybe he somehow thinks it’s his business to know.”
Celia: “He could ask. And it’s no one’s business anyway. Lucy doesn’t need a dad. She has three moms.”
GM: “A male role model might not be bad. But I agree. Her needs seem like they’re being more than met.”
“And I know. He could, and it’s not his business, but he’s a sick and twisted fuck who doesn’t respect other people or their boundaries.”
Celia: “What do I do if he knows?”
GM: “Prepare for a custody fight.”
Celia: “My mom wants to get back with him. I don’t know if I told you. There’s been a lot going on.”
“But the other night she was talking about it. How she misses him. As if he didn’t take her leg off with a hacksaw. Or rape her. Or hurt the rest of us.”
“Jesus apparently wants her to forgive.”
GM: “Your mom’s a little nuts.”
GM: “I’m not sure what to do about that. But I guess meeting with him… well, I’m not about to say it can’t hurt, but the rewards sound worth having to let him back into your life, even a little. Just to find out what he’s after.”
Roderick squeezes her again. “You’re a badass lick now, though. He can’t hurt you.”
Celia: His friend in the shadows can, though. And probably will if he finds out about this.
“Right. Badass lick. I’ll beat him up.”
“I lied. I thought of something you can do to help.”
Celia: She doesn’t want to ask. It’s lazy of her. She could hurry and get ready and find a willing mortal somewhere along the way. But he’s right here.
Celia bites her lip. She glances away.
GM: He hugs her close again, shifting her position so his mouth is by her ear.
“I’m here. Name it.”
Celia: The breath on her ear sends shivers running down her spine.
“I don’t want to lose control around him. I mean. I do. But I can’t. And I’d rather spend what time I can with you instead of tracking down a vessel before I have to go choke down food.”
GM: He nods. “Okay. Let’s get a cup or something so I don’t collar you any tighter.”
Celia: “Smart.” Celia pulls away to find one. Luckily she’s got all those pots and pans she’d knocked over the other night; it takes a few seconds to find a cup.
GM: Roderick bites his wrist and bleeds into it.
“Just say when.”
Celia: She says when. The thing inside of her wants more, it always does. It’s a greedy little monster. But Celia doesn’t want to put him out any more than she needs to. He’s already doing her a favor; no need to drain him dry.
She watches the glass fill, can feel her fangs distend in her mouth. She’s patient enough to wait a moment longer before she reaches for the glass to drink down his offering.
GM: His blood is hot and filling and ferocious, like all Brujah blood, but sharpens and clarifies her thoughts too. It feels like a good libation before she sees her father.
Celia: She drains it. Licks the rim. Doesn’t let a bit of it go to waste. And when it’s gone she curls herself around his body, tucking her head against his chest, and thanks him for what he’s done for her.
“Do you really want us to get a place together?”
GM: He holds her close and runs his hand along the back of her head.
“Why not? We’d be safer, and I love spending time with you.”
Celia: “It’ll need a big closet. Really big. Whatever you’re thinking, triple it.”
GM: He laughs. “Okay. Walk-ins, got it.”
“Actually never had one of those.”
Celia: “You still won’t.” Her brows lift. Celia shares many things. Closet space is not one of them.
“What’s your krewe going to say when they find all those beautiful dresses in your place? Could tell them you’re exploring your feminine side.”
GM: He smirks. “Could also just tell them they’re my renfield’s. But I doubt they’ll see your closet.”
Celia: “Do you spoil Bess with clothes?”
GM: “Bess isn’t my renfield.”
Celia: “…did I get her name wrong?”
GM: “She’s the property manager at my old haven.”
Celia: “Oh. So the boy with the messy place is yours.”
Messy place. Her eyes dart around her still-destroyed haven.
GM: “Yeah, he’s one of them.”
“All right. We should get ready for our nights. I’m also going to reach out to Ayame, I still haven’t heard back from her.”
“Dani can’t stay in the Quarter.”
Celia: “She’s not safe anywhere else in the city. You think the sheriff is going to let her go back to her place in Riverbend?”
GM: “That’s why I’m getting her out.”
Celia: “She doesn’t want to leave, Roderick. She… your death broke your dad. That’s what she said to me last night. That he’s just a shell. That she’s a poor replacement for you, but she’s all he has.”
GM: “Wait, what? You spoke with her?” Roderick’s eyes widen.
Celia: “I told you I’d find her.”
GM: He frowns. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”
Celia: “You were upset about Coco. And then we got distracted.”
GM: “All right. Tell me about her! Is she safe? Is she all right?”
Celia: “She’s safe. She’s all right. She was turned a week ago but she doesn’t remember by who. She thought she was the only one in the world, and she’s been looking for answers, but so far she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s…” Celia runs her hand through her hair. “She’s a thin-blood. Like for real. Didn’t have any idea about anything. I had to explain it all to her. She’s in law school, you know.”
“And she said your dad wishes she had died instead of you. That she’s… how did she put it, the O’Tolleys playground after being promised Disneyland. It was… bleak.”
GM: “Oh my… god…” Roderick whispers, taking all of that in.
“That’s not true, he loves her just as much as me!”
Celia: “That’s what I told her. We talked for a while about it.”
GM: Celia may think back to their own discussion about her mother’s favorite children in 2012.
How Roderick said all parents have favorites.
Celia: Parents are supposed to love the one that’s left, though.
“When we were dating, all those years ago, she said similar things to me.”
“It sounds like she’s always felt as if she were in your shadow.”
GM: “I’m the older sibling, by six years. And the one who was going to carry on the family legacy. I guess that was inevitable.”
Celia: “She wants to now. You should have seen her, Roderick, she scared off some guy who tried to rape a teenager. Talked about wanting to do good, change the world. It was like talking to you.”
“Just… a you with no confidence.”
GM: Roderick smiles at first, then stops.
“I’ll be honest… she’s a vampire now. And a thin-blood. That really closes a lot of doors.”
Celia: “She won’t do any better in Houston than she will here. Those doors will still be closed.”
GM: “Houston doesn’t have a policy of active genocide. It’s not going to be a good unlife for her, but I saw that massacre, Celia! She isn’t safe here!”
Celia: “I can keep her safe. I will keep her safe. She’s already learned the basics. She’s a bright kid. And I have some ideas for her.”
GM: “Except for how she’ll be Savoy’s hostage.”
Celia: “I promise you, Roderick, I will keep her from being harmed. Even by Savoy.”
“You know she doesn’t have a Beast? It’s safe for her to be around your dad. She won’t have to fake her death, not for a long time.”
GM: “Celia, you can’t keep her safe from Savoy. He knows who she is to me.”
Celia: “She doesn’t have powers, Roderick. None of them do. What do you think is going to happen if she goes to Houston? She’ll be a punching bag. Worse than a ghoul. They might not have an active genocide, but they aren’t going to give a fuck if some random thin-blood ends up dead.”
“You can see her here. Your dad can see her here. He won’t have to bury another kid.”
“She wants to go into business with you. Legal stuff. You could be a team.”
GM: “And all I’ll have to do is kiss Savoy’s ring, betray Coco, and work for him.”
Celia: Celia takes his hand in hers. She’s quiet for a moment, searching his face with her gaze.
The moment stretches between them. She doesn’t let the silence get awkward; how can it be, with two people who love each other? It’s a comfortable silence, the sort of silence that neither one of them need to fill. An understanding silence.
Celia moves her hands down his chest, working at the buttons on his shirt as she goes. Once they’re free she slides her hands back around him, fingers moving against the muscles on his back. She doesn’t dig, just lets her skin slide against his, feeling for the little spots of tightness that speak of tension and pain and past trauma.
She knows his body well. She knows where to touch, where it hurts, where her hands will find the answers she’s looking for.
And she’s well practiced at this technique by now. It stretches between them, that little band of energy that pulls her along for the ride. She doesn’t become him. It’s different with licks. Their Beasts are more wary than the kine. But she can surround him with herself. She cans see the spinning orbs and set them into motion, can free the ones she needs freed, the little blue light at his throat that might ordinarily keep him silent.
“I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind.” she murmurs after a moment. Her voice stays quiet. Steady. She’s nothing but a concerned girlfriend giving the boy she loves what comfort she can. “A personal question.”
GM: Roderick sighs with relief and doesn’t fight his girlfriend’s massage. He used to eat her out in return for this, after all.
It’s even easier to invade his mind than Diana’s was. He just lets her right in, equally oblivious to the supernal influence washing over this thoughts.
“You can ask me anything,” he murmurs.
Celia: “We talked before,” she continues quietly, moving her hands up and down his lats and making tiny circles across the paraspinals, “about getting married. And taking that third step with each other. Making it special. And I keep coming back to that thought. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through the night, the thought that… that you’re waiting for me, that I get to come home to you.” Her cheek presses against his chest while her fingers work their magic. “And I was just wondering… if you’ve done that with anyone before. If you’re already fully bound to someone.”
GM: “No, I’m only two steps collared to her,” Roderick answers calmly.
Celia: “And to me?” The words come out as barely more than a whisper.
GM: “Once, I’m pretty confident.”
“I’d like to save the second drink for sometime special.”
Celia: So it had snapped that night. Broken face, broken heart, broken collar. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Celia silently nods her head. Something paces back and forth inside her chest. Not the Beast, but something similar. Something worse, maybe, that tells her… that tells her she’ll never be good enough for him. That if she doesn’t make him drink he’ll never choose her over her Coco. He’ll never think she’s smart enough. He’ll never think she’s strong enough. He’ll never think she’s capable. He thinks she’s pretty, but so does everyone. That’s all she has. She’s pretty.
She doesn’t realize when the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She wipes her cheek on her shoulder but only succeeds in smearing the blood across her face.
She’s a monster. And now it’s written across that oh-so-pretty face of hers.
Celia finds the tether between them, the little beam of white energy. She pulls it back into her body, withdrawing from her boyfriend’s mind. Her hands don’t stop, though. They continue for another beat before traveling upward and around his shoulders and the neck, rising to the tips of her toes so she can whisper, “me too,” right before she presses her lips against his.
GM: Roderick returns her kiss and wraps his strong arms around her, holding her close and tight.
“You’re crying,” he says after a moment, pulling away enough for her to see the concern writ across his face. “What’s wrong?”
She doesn’t know anymore. She’s forgotten why she’s upset. She’s forgotten what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s forgotten her purpose.
She wants him. She wants him to want her. She wants to get his sire’s talons out of his head. She wants to break that bond so Roderick can see, clearly, the problems that she’s causing with her blind obedience and loyalty. She wants him to see that he’s on the wrong side. That his sire is just as bad as every other elder, and the fact that she hides it behind intellect and charm doesn’t mean she’s not. She wants him to realize that Coco set him up, that she sent the hunters after him, that she’s keeping him busy with scribe duties and note taking and won’t lift a finger to help him with his actual dreams because she doesn’t want him to succeed, because she doesn’t care about him. He’s a pawn. A tool. Like her.
But she can’t tell him, can she? Because his mind has been twisted by the blood. And maybe hers has too. Maybe the thing in her chest, the green monster, maybe that’s controlling her thoughts.
Maybe it’s the sheer amount of collars on her and leashes that tug her in so many different directions that causes this loss of control, that makes it spill down her cheeks. Or the thought of failure. She’s failing. Again.
But she can’t answer his question. Because she doesn’t even know where to start.
GM: “Shhh. It’s okay,” Roderick says softly, drying her tears with his hands. Celia can see the fangs in his mouth at the heady scent, but he hugs her close again, running his hand up and down the small of her back. “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”
“I love you. You’re safe.”
Celia: Twice in two nights.
She’s a wreck.
“Are you coming back tonight?”
GM: He rubs up towards her head.
Celia: Celia nods. The smile she tries to send his way falters before it makes a complete journey across her face.
“Savoy summoned me tonight. I expect it’s for an update.”
GM: “Oh, what on?”
Celia: He knows what on.
GM: His face downturns into a scowl.
Celia: She doesn’t quite flinch. But there’s a wariness to her that wasn’t there a moment ago, like she’s ready to bolt if he decides to take it out on her.
GM: “Christ. I’m not about to go apeshit. You don’t need to do that every time I frown.”
Celia: “You keep getting distracted with other parts of my body when you’re supposed to show me how to throw a punch.”
GM: “I’ll show you. We’ll make time specifically to fuck first, then to get in some practice.”
Celia: “We did that last night. And we still ended up fucking. Again.”
GM: “Okay. We’ll make time to fuck twice.”
Celia: “Is that going to be enough?”
“I don’t know about you but the entire time Elgin was droning on I kept thinking about all the things I wanted you to do to me, and we’d just fucked.”
“And then I had to call you Mr. Durant and I had this schoolgirl fantasy…”
GM: “And what a naughty schoolgirl you’d be, not paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. Should I put you over my knee and spank you?”
“Ah, wait. Crap. That probably isn’t a turn-on for you.”
Celia: “Er… actually…”
GM: He raises his eyebrows. “It still is?”
Celia: She gives a sort of helpless shrug, eyes dropping to the middle of the chest rather than meet his gaze. She can’t quite keep the smile—two parts bashful, one part wicked—from her lips.
GM: “Well, if you want to now… when do you have to be out the door by?”
Celia: “I’m torn between arousal and horror at the thought of showing up to dinner with my dad after you spank me.”
GM: “Yeah, I kinda had the same thought…”
Celia: “Bet we have time to fuck, though. In the shower. Two birds.”
“And then later tonight I can find a plaid skirt and some mary janes.”
“Maybe get you a tie.”
GM: “Eh, the schoolgirl skirt and shoes don’t really turn me on. I love you in this dress, though. Happy to spank you in it. It’s so tight and sexy, the way it clings to your hips…” He runs his hands up and down her sides again.
Celia: Celia leans into his touch. Her breath hitches as his hands move down her sides, whatever she had been about to say lost to the moment.
“I suppose,” she murmurs, “that it’s a good thing I have dozens just like this. Why don’t you help me out of it and tonight I’ll let you pick something else you can bend me over your lap in…” She tugs him toward the shower.
Conscious of the time, Celia and Roderick make it quick. Their clothing comes off without any prolonged foreplay, and when he takes her in the shower with her legs around his waist and her back pressed to the tile wall it’s frantic and needy. No fangs come out to play, just skin and lips and hands that bring them both to completion.
She loves him for it. For his willingness to play human and take her like a man takes a woman. For not judging that she still revels in the closeness of their bodies, or that she cries out the same way she used to, or that sometimes she just wants to kiss him without the taste of blood. She loves him for many reasons, but that’s one of them.
She tells him that after he lets her down, when his hands, lathered with soap, run down her body. She tells him that she loves him, that she’ll always love him, and that she can’t wait to spend the rest of her Requiem with him. She’s looking forward to more evenings like this: waking up in his arms, discussing their plans, going their separate ways, coming back home to each other.
She only wishes they didn’t have to hide it.
“Let me know what the Asian says so I can figure how to play this tonight, yeah?”
GM: The shower sex is brief but passionate. Roderick is so strong now and can lift her up like she’s nothing as he penetrates her. It probably doesn’t hurt how she’s removed many of her internal organs either. Or how his ass is now tighter. The pair emerge wet and dripping from the shower, and Roderick enjoys himself setting Celia on the counter and toweling her off in manner that feels more like being molested through the towel.
“God, I can’t keep my hands off you,” he murmurs.
He says he loves her too, so much, and can’t wait to get married as breathers. The way they were meant to.
He does so much to pleasure her body, to show the depth of his affection through touch. He touches her in ways Pietro never will with his feather-light fingers. He touches her like a woman, not just a lick. His libido is up to fuck whenever hers is.
And yet, her thoughts have strayed to other licks and ghouls and men, as assuredly as Evan strayed from Roxanne.
Perhaps they do now, or perhaps they don’t. But it’s as Mabel said.
Enough love to go around.
“Her name’s Ayame. I think she probably gets enough of ‘the Asian’ from other Anarchs.”
“And the sad thing is we’re still the most progressive club. Pretty sure the Invictus still calls them ‘orientals.’”
Celia: Her mind doesn’t wander when Roderick is inside of her. Or when he lays her out on the counter to “dry her off.” Or when he touches her. Right now her attention is fully on him, despite the overabundance of love in her… heart.
“Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “You’re right, of course. I know her name.” She lets out a long, forced sigh.
GM: “I also don’t like hearing how Savoy expects progress reports on manipulating me.”
Celia: “…you’re the one who brought it up nights ago, that he probably will expect them.”
“I don’t know if that’s what this is about. It could be any number of things.”
GM: “Let’s just not talk about him while we’re here.” He lifts up her chin to dab some moisture around her upper neck.
Celia: “Politics free zone?”
Celia lifts her chin for him, giving him easy access to the spot he needs.
GM: “That’s right.” She wonders if there was even anything to towel away there, because he kisses her instead.
Celia: There wasn’t. They both know there wasn’t. But Celia is happy to play along.
She lets out a breathy giggle at the touch.
GM: He steals another kiss.
“Only because you’re irresistible.”
Celia: “I heard,” she whispers slyly, “that I’m the cutest lick in the city.”
GM: “You heard wrong. I heard you were the cutest lick in the world.”
“Although I suppose ‘in the city’ is still technically accurate.”
“We should schedule an entire night, sometime. To do nothing besides fuck in every way we can think up. I wonder if that would get it out of our systems.”
Celia: “Doubt it. But we can certainly try.”
GM: “We’ll do it for research purposes.”
Celia: “Of course.”
“Has it gotten better for you?” She nods toward what’s hiding behind the towel around his hips.
GM: There’s already a bulge.
“Think that answers your question,” he smirks, glancing down.
Celia: “But are you doing that?” She reaches for him anyway, loosening the towel to let it fall to the ground.
GM: His penis is there and hard.
“Not consciously. It’s funny.”
“I thought we couldn’t enjoy sex, so for a while I just didn’t try to.”
Celia: “It’s because I’m so pretty, to be honest.” She takes him into her hand.
…what if it is her?
GM: He’s stiff and pulsing under her touch.
“Must be it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a girl who compares.”
He smiles and glances down.
“You know, I bet your dad will expect a kiss on the cheek, and if those were the same lips that had just sucked a dick…”
But she’s on her knees a moment later.
GM: He lays out the towel underneath and folds it twice before she does. It seems less scandalous when he doesn’t cum in her mouth, but her lover still looks as if he (greatly) enjoys himself, and she can indeed kiss her father with lips that just sucked a dick.
Celia: What else can any girl possibly want?
It’s when he pulls her up after he finishes and kisses her throughly (that lack of cum is good for many reasons, it turns out) that she finally asks the question she’s been wondering since they’d gotten back together:
“Are we exclusive?”
GM: Roderick picks her up and carries her to her closet so she can pick out clothes.
“I’d like us to be, yeah.”
Celia: She had expected as much.
Celia opens the closet door, revealing a veritable treasure trove of clothing and accessories. It’s no wonder she demanded her own closet earlier: there’s literally no room for anything but her in here. It must have served some other function and been turned into a walk-in, because the space itself measures half the size of the front room. Clothes, shoes, bags, and other assorted accessories cover every square inch of it, neatly arranged by… well, by some sort of system that only she seems to understand. Dresses hang from the bars that have been installed on every wall, with racks of shoes beneath them. Countless pairs of heels, flats, and boots wait for her to step into them. Above the dresses shelves have been built into the walls to hold her collection of handbags and hats, and the scarves that dangle from hooks look more like decor than fashion. Soft, shimmery, glittery. A custom-built “island” has drawers that pull out to reveal undergarments ranging from barely-there strappy little numbers to a more conservative cheeky panty. Thigh-highs, fishnets, stockings, and socks sit pretty in another. The last reveals a tray of various pieces of jewelry nestled in velvet, half of which were gifted to her by Pietro; the thief had once said that she looks her best when he drapes her in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. “Just jewels and skin.”
She directs him toward a section in the back corner where a smaller selection of more modest clothing hangs, separated from the rest by a large white garment bag.
A pair of eyes peer out at Celia from behind a handbag on the top shelf as Roderick sets her down. Blossom has always loved spending time in here. Celia gives the doll a fond smile, arching a delicate eyebrow at her as if to ask if she’s getting up to something she shouldn’t be. She’s been quite taken with a certain somebody since their introduction… and, yes, there, a flash of brown hair. Delighted, Celia winks at the doll.
“Are you going to start fights with everyone who looks at me sideways?” she asks idly of Roderick, thumbing through the hangers.
GM: “Jesus, this is a lot of clothes. And you have even more at your other haven?” he remarks as he carries her over.
Blossom smiles back at her mother.
“He didn’t just look. He touched you.”
Celia: “I like clothes,” Celia says with a shrug. She turns her eyes away from the doll, letting her keep her secrets for now.
“And yes, I’m aware he touched me. You were going to come to blows over it.” There’s no question there; she knows exactly what his plan was.
GM: “I like how good you look in them, too. Just surprised you have so many.”
“And yeah. I was gonna challenge him to a duel.”
Celia: “I assumed. I’m flattered. But you know that’s what they do, right?” She turns to face him, clothing forgotten for the moment. “They touch me. That’s how they see me, as a pretty, vapid slut they get to touch.”
GM: “You’re not vapid or a slut, and I’ll punch out anyone who treats you like you are.”
Celia: He’d almost called her stupid the other night. But she doesn’t point it out.
“It’s just a mask, Roderick.”
GM: “You don’t need to wear that mask.”
Celia: “Are you planning on declaring your love for me to the whole city?”
GM: “If you wanted to join the Anarchs, we could. Some licks would try to take advantage, but would it be so bad?”
Celia: “I will not support Vidal. Ever.”
GM: “I didn’t say Vidal. I said the Anarchs.”
Celia: “The Anarchs support Vidal. Coco and Opal support Vidal.”
GM: “They might, but plenty Anarchs have about as much to do with the prince as you do.”
Celia: “I will not even nominally throw in with someone who would support the massacre of people like your sister, or let monsters like the sheriff roam the streets and mete out his version of ‘justice.’”
GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I have an answer to that, but maybe it’s better we just not get into politics.”
Celia: “Frankly I’d be surprised if whoever takes over for him even lets the Anarchs keep what they have.”
Celia closes her mouth.
GM: “Their mistake. Whoever takes over is going to be a weaker prince, and even Vidal wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout of that.”
“But I’m already breaking my word.”
“Speaking of Dani. I want to see her.”
“Could you bring her here? I know you’re concerned about this place’s security, so you could just leave her phone behind, take her in the trunk, and blindfold her on the way in and out.”
Celia: “They’re watching her. I told you that.”
GM: Roderick effects another sigh. “You did. And you’re right. They’d just watch you do it.”
Celia: “I’m sorry. I know you want to see her.”
“Maybe I can… ask him.”
GM: Roderick’s arms tense under Celia.
Celia: “I’ll just offer a favor or… or something.”
GM: He shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that. Get in any deeper with him. I’ll get to see Dani.”
Celia: “I’d do it for you. To make you happy. I’d do that.”
GM: “I’ll get to see her,” he repeats. “We do need an extract plan, to get her out of the city. I’ve already been working on that. Part of what I’m going to take care of tonight.”
Celia: “With Ayame?”
GM: “This is on my end. She promised transport out of the city, not moving a thin-blood out of the Quarter unseen.”
Celia: “…are you going to break into the Quarter to get her out?”
GM: He presses his lips together. “It’s a bigger security risk if you know the details.”
“But I trust you, if you want to know.”
Celia: She looks as if he’d slapped her. Just for a moment, until the rest of it follows.
GM: “…I just said I trust you.”
Celia: “Considering I’m the one that’s going to take the heat for this, yeah, Roderick, I’d like to know.”
GM: “Okay. I’m going to get her out during the day.”
“I’ve talked to some duskborn. They still burn in the sun, but not as bad as us.”
Celia: “Dani said she doesn’t burn. She said she just gets tired.”
GM: He blinks. “What?”
Celia: “I asked. She said she tested it.”
GM: “You’re positive? How comprehensively did she test it?”
Celia: “She said she read about it in Dracula. That he doesn’t burn, just loses his powers.”
GM: “Sure. But that’s fiction.”
Celia: “Right, which is what I told her.”
“Are you going to let her finish the semester, at least? So she has a chance to transfer?”
“I had to drop everything. It… sucked.”
GM: He shakes his head. “It’ll suck less than the alternative. She has forever. She can take as long as she wants to finish school, if she still wants to.”
Celia: “But you still burn in the sun, so I don’t imagine that you’ll be the one retrieving her. You trust your ghouls with this?”
GM: “Almost. Mine, and an independent I’m hiring who’s good at shadow dancing. To hide them on their way in and out.”
“You’re positive Dani can’t burn in the sun? That would make things easier.”
Celia: “I’ll double check. The whole thin-blood thing is… weird? Fascinating?”
GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Who even knows what the rules are with them.”
Celia: “She wants to know why people don’t like her kind. I didn’t know what to say.”
GM: “Hatred of the other. Fear. Jealousy. Disgust. Scripture. Lot of reasons.”
Celia: “That’s kind of what we discussed. It just felt thin.”
GM: “All reasons for genocide are thin. Everything about unreasoning hatred is thin.”
Roderick effects another sigh.
“I really wish I could’ve been there for her, last night.”
“But I know she was in good hands with you.”
Celia: “It was fine. She was… happy to see me, actually.”
“She wants me to talk to your dad.”
GM: He smiles. “Good. I’d been worried she’d be angry at you, over…”
Celia: “Yeah. About how you helped my family. About how you’re a good person.”
GM: Roderick’s face grows still, and a moment passes before he replies, “I think… I think he’d really like that.”
Celia: “Does he know… what happened with us?”
“It’s one thing to explain to Dani, but your dad…”
GM: “Yeah. He knew.” Roderick’s words are slow. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t just keep it to myself.”
Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.
GM: “I wish he didn’t think I was dead,” her lover says heavily.
“I think that was the worst decision I made in my Requiem, in a lot of ways.”
Celia: “I had this thought to invite him to dinner at my mom’s house. Introduce them. Let him see how you helped my family. Bring Dani. Sneak you in, somehow.”
GM: He gives a sad smile. “That’s really sweet. You should.”
“I’d like to see him again, even if… even if he can’t know it’s me.”
Celia: “Hello Mr. Garrison, this is my boyfriend Roderick that I definitely didn’t cheat on your son with.”
GM: Roderick starts crying. Celia’s fangs lengthen in her mouth at the coppery tang.
“He was just… the best dad, Celia… I did this to him… so I could… throw body parts off boats… like a mobster…”
Celia: Her heart breaks for him. She pulls him into her arms, holding him tight while he lets it out.
GM: “I haven’t even gotten around… to the Mafia…”
“I wish I could… take it back… I shouldn’t have, have let him think I was…”
Celia: “I sent flowers. To your funeral. I didn’t show up as me because… I didn’t want to hurt them, seeing me, with you gone, I didn’t think you’d want that, but… when Dani goes, I can… I can be there, maybe, do you think..?”
Otherwise he’ll be all alone.
Burying another child.
No more little Garrisons to carry on the family line.
No more Mafia behind bars.
GM: “I… I guess it couldn’t hurt…” Roderick wipes his eyes. “He doesn’t have to think Dani’s dead, just moving away…”
Celia: “She can never come back, Roderick. Once she’s gone.”
“She’ll never see him. No holidays, no birthdays…”
GM: “He doesn’t have to think she’s dead.”
“He could… come see her, maybe…?”
Celia: “She was crying last night. Like you are. At the thought of leaving him behind. About how she’d wanted to… to do so much to make him proud, and how now she can’t even have kids to carry on, and…”
GM: “Yeah,” he says bleakly. “It sucks.”
“I… I accepted this, but it was for a reason. A chance to do more good.”
Celia: But he hasn’t.
GM: “Dani was just… there wasn’t even any reason.”
“She shouldn’t exist, like this. The thin-blooded shouldn’t exist.”
Celia: “I thought you were an ally.”
How can he say that?
About his own sister?
And if he thinks that, what about the strangers in Houston?
Surely he’s considered that.
GM: “I am. Genocide is wrong in any form. But if the thin-blooded just weren’t a thing, and all thin-bloods were still breathers? They’d be better off.”
“Dani sure would be.”
“Our dad sure would be.”
Celia: Maybe Coco knew exactly what she was doing when she’d taken him.
Kept him busy with all those projects of hers.
Maybe that rumor about Carolla is more correct than he knows.
Maybe she’d arranged for Dani’s Embrace.
Half-Embrace? What do you call the partial transformation of a half-vampire?
“Don’t take her away from him, Roderick.” The words come out as a whisper. She touches a hand to his cheek, lifting his gaze towards her. “Everything she told me last night… they need each other.” She wipes at his tears with her fingers. “Losing you almost killed him. He shouldn’t have to bury another child, and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. He’s busy. He won’t make the trip out to Houston. And how will Dani feel then? She already thinks he doesn’t love her.”
Her voice catches, threatening to break. She’d seen the pain in his sister last night.
“You can’t undo what happened to her, but you don’t have to take her away from everything she knows, everyone she knows and loves. She should have been my sister, too.”
GM: Roderick sighs wearily.
Still 22 years old, but he looks every bit past 30.
He looks down.
He’s silent for a moment.
“Let… let me see them, Celia. Dani, here. Her, my dad, at dinner.”
“I should talk to my sister. She’s the one who’s… who’s been in my dad’s life. I should hear what she wants to do. How she even feels, about Hoston.”
“But… you don’t have to stick yourself on a cross, for me. I’ll owe him. Not you. Tell him that. He’ll have his marker, to call in.”
The words sound like he’s had to pry them out of his mouth.
But above all, they sound tired.
Celia: Celia pulls him in. She rests her cheek against his chest, offering him what comfort she can with her physical body. She loves him. And she wants him to be on the right side. And that’s how she justifies what she’s doing to herself: that it’s for him. For the greater good. For Dani and all the licks like her who shouldn’t be put down for what they are. Because Vidal is a tyrant and Savoy should be in charge and when the prince takes his dirt nap Roderick will be safe.
“I’ll make it happen,” she tells him, “and I’ll keep her safe. I promise.”
GM: He holds her back for a while. He doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close against his body, face in her hair as he breathes in her familiar scent.
“Okay,” he says at length.
Celia: She loves him. She tells him that, after a long moment, that she loves him.
And she repeats it to herself. That she loves him. That she’s doing the right thing. That it’s for his good. Dani’s good. Henry’s good. The city’s good.
Still, she feels like the monster everyone says she is.
Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM
Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.
She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.
She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.
The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.
She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.
But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.
Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?
Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.
She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.
Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.
She uses that time to send out a series of texts:
To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.
To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.
To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.
Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.
GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your MeVid channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.
Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.
Alana does the same.
Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.
Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.
The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.
Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:
Love you Celia!!!
Four hearts faces.
Gorgeous. Two hearts.
:) :) :) :)
You are stunning… Heart.
CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!
So pretty!!! That lip!
Beautiful & great tune
Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.
She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the MeVid videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.
All she has to do is smile and look pretty.
And do the makeup, of course.
The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.
GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”
Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facemash.
One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facemash friend request from her.
Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facemash page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.
GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.
Celia: That’s normal, right?
Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.
That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.
Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:
Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?
Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?
Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?
And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.
There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.
Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.
Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.
Though perhaps that’s more Master level.
No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.
She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.
Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.
…like her tits.
GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.
Not that she has many breather friends anymore.
So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.
Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.
Well, more like faintly sneering.
But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.
Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.
They’re a guild secret.
GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.
Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.
GM: It’s her dad.
He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.
“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”
He holds out his arms for a hug.
Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.
Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.
She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.
Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.
She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.
She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.
GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.
“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.
Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.
She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.
“You too, Dad.”
How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.
“How have you been? How’s… everything?”
GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.
“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”
Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.
Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”
GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”
He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.
Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.
“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”
Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.
“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”
GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”
He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower shop in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”
Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”
She wants to take Roderick there on a date.
“Election keeping you busy?”
GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired her for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”
“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”
Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.
“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”
She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.
GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”
Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.
GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. Our state’s technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”
“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”
Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”
GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”
“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”
Celia: He killed me.
“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”
It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?
“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”
GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”
Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”
GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”
“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”
Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”
GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”
Celia: Is that all it is?
“We definitely bounce back.”
GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”
“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.
They’ve had menus available for a little while.
Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”
GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.
Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”
Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.
“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.
GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”
He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”
Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”
“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”
She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.
She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.
She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.
GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”
Celia: “It has.”
“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”
There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.
GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”
“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”
Celia: “Is that… something you want?”
GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”
Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”
GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”
Celia: “Is it, though?”
GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.
Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.
“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”
“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for this.”
“I’m going to be governor.”
“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. That means we control the governor’s mansion and have majorities in both legislative chambers. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion in 2012 to Bill Roberts.”
“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”
“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other candidates out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”
“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”
“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”
“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”
“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively completed in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”
“I intend to be the GOP governor of a GOP state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”
“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”
“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”
“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”
He pauses, seemingly to give Celia a chance to process and reply.
Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.
Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.
Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.
Already the wheels turn.
“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”
“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.
GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”
Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.
“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”
GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.
Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.
GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”
He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”
Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.
“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”
GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.
“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. Even most casual political junkies can’t name the leadership in their state senate. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”
Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.
She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…
“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”
She bites into the dumpling.
It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.
GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.
Her mom will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.
“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”
Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.
But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.
She swallows the dumpling.
She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of Pher, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?
She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.
She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.
The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.
Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.
Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.
Small blessings and all that.
“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’”
She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.
GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”
“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”
“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”
Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”
GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”
“Here’s why he lost.”
“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”
“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”
Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.
“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”
GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”
“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are obviously lots of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”
“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”
Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”
GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”
Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”
Had Madison changed politics somehow?
GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone has to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.
Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”
GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”
Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”
Which isn’t exactly true in the MeVid game, but she’ll live.
GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do very good jobs.”
Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”
GM: Maxen chuckles as the waitress arrives with the pair’s food.
Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.
Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.
GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.
Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.
Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.
“This looks amazing.”
GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.
“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”
Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”
GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”
Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steak house so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”
GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”
Celia: She can’t help but laugh.
“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”
GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.
“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”
Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.
She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.
Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.
GM: It tastes like shit.
Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.
It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.
There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.
And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.
The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.
She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.
And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.
Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.
“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”
“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”
GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.
Celia: Celia will.
She plans to find out.
GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”
“I’ve heard about a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”
“That’s discipline. I think he’s a military vet.”
Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”
GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”
“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”
Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.
GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.
Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.
It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.
Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.
After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.
GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”
Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.
It threatens to drown her.
How long since her last breath?
She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.
She kills it before it has a chance to live.
“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.
GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.
“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family. Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”
“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”
Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.
For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.
Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?
“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.
“What changed? Why now?”
GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”
“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”
“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”
Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.
GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”
Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?
“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.
“But that’s not a solution.”
GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”
“She could dance again.”
“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”
Celia: “How did you come across them?”
GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”
“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”
“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”
Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.
The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.
She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.
GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”
Celia: “Why did you do it?”
GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.
“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”
Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”
Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.
Your mom’s a sex slave.
She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.
GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”
Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”
GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”
Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.
GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”
Celia: Not him, though. Never him.
“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.
His master had killed his parents, after all.
GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”
Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”
GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”
Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”
GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”
“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”
“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”
Celia: Payton did it?
Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.
GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”
Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”
GM: “Before you.”
“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”
Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.
“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.
GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”
“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”
Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”
GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”
“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”
Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.
Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.
Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.
But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.
GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”
Why would she name her daughter after her doll?
“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”
GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”
“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”
Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.”
A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners.
“Did you know her? Before she went?”
GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”
Celia: “…with a gun?”
GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”
Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”
But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.
GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”
“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”
“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”
Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”
GM: “When she started to cry.”
Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.
Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.
They do, but…
Celia sets her head in her hands.
GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”
Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”
GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”
Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”
She’d been there.
Breaking countless hers.
GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”
Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”
GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”
Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.
GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”
He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.
“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”
“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”
“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”
“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”
Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.
Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.
“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”
GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.
Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.
She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.
Mom is a doll.
Dad said she isn’t stupid.
Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.
It can’t matter.
She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.
She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?
He’s not her dad.
And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.
It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.
Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.
She stares back.
She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.
Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.
She returns to the table.
GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.
If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.
Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.
Maybe she will.
GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.
Mom the doll.
Celia: And Payton.
Sending her daughter to become a doll.
She’d thought it was Maxen.
GM: That would’ve been easier.
Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.
Instead of whatever this is.
GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.
“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”
Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.
“I’m okay,” she says.
GM: “Okay,” he says.
“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”
Celia: “I will.”
GM: “Thank you.”
Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”
“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”
It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.
GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. If you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”
Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”
GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”
Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.
“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”
GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”
Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”
“But she does. We all do.”
GM: “Well, about that.”
Maxen hands her a manilla folder.
Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.
GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’
She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.
GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”
Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.
She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.
“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.
GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”
“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized under law. There are rights and privileges like hospital visitation rights that may only be available to legal family members.”
Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”
GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”
“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”
“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”
Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”
“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”
GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”
Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”
GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”
Celia: She waits, expectant.
GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”
“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”
Celia: His baby.
GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”
Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.
“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”
GM: “Yes. I withheld my love and support when she needed it most.”
Celia: She’d been telling the truth.
She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.
“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”
GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”
Celia: And now she’s gone.
GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”
Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”
GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”
Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.
“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.
GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”
Celia: “That’s awful.”
GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”
Celia: Celia nods along.
GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”
Celia: He is dead.
He was probably eaten.
Or torn apart.
“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”
GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”
GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”
“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”
“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”
“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things with those. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”
Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.
It’s about Isabel.
It’s always about Isabel.
GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”
Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”
GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”
Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”
GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”
Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”
GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”
“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”
“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”
Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”
“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”
“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”
“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told me how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”
“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”
“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”
Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”
GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”
Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.
She nods. Waiting. Expectant.
GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”
“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”
Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.
GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”
Celia: “What changed your mind?”
GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”
Celia: “Who was the priest?”
GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”
“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”
GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”
“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”
Celia: “So he did it anyway.”
GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”
Celia: “And he died from it?”
GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take hours or even days, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”
“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”
“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even faze him.”
“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or more than a little bit of water.”
“He didn’t allow me to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”
“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”
Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.
GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”
“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”
“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”
“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”
“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”
“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”
“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”
“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”
Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.
GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”
Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.
GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”
Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”
GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”
Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”
GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”
GM: “I do.”
Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”
GM: Celia’s father shakes his head.
Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”
GM: “I remember those. I am sorry for them. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”
Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”
GM: “I remember.”
Celia: “And with Isabel?”
GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”
GM: “I’m sorry?”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.
Maybe that’s a good thing.
But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?
“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”
GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”
Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”
GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”
Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”
GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”
Celia: No one is going to believe her.
And there’s no one to talk it over with.
But she knows.
He really had fucked her entire family.
“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”
GM: “A woman?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”
GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”
Celia: “Then tell me your side.”
“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”
GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”
“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”
Celia: “You did.”
GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”
Celia: “In 2003?”
Celia: “Why did you think that?”
GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”
Celia: “What did she say?”
GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”
Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”
GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”
Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”
GM: “Yes. That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”
GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”
Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”
Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”
GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”
Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”
GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”
Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”
GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”
Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”
GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”
“They missed, but if the party loses the general election this year, Nathan is sure to run again in 2020.”
Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”
GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”
Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”
“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”
GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”
“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”
Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.
“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”
GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”
Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.
Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?
“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”
GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”
“I love you.”
Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”