“This is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong."
Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless, and perhaps too short for the thoughts swirling in Celia’s head. Alana tells her that a girl named Danielle Garrison has come by, saying that Celia wanted to meet her here. She’s in the Tranquility Room.
Celia: The brief drive leaves her no time to dissect the thoughts racing through her mind. She barely has a plan in how to deal with them, though she knows some meditation will be in order later this evening with Princess, Blossom, and Lucy if she gets a free moment…
Ah, but Lucy is with Elyse, she recalls. Ready, or soon to be ready, to be picked up. Perhaps just the other two, then? Three minds are better than one, aren’t they, and Princess might have some valuable insight to share. This area is her specialty.
Celia stops on her way to the Tranquility Room to briefly discuss things with Alana.
“What I’m about to tell you goes no further than us, you understand?”
GM: At this hour, the spa is mostly closed down for the night. Piper has already left to hit up the bars. Landen doesn’t have any six-year-olds to do the nails of, this time, so they’re off too, as are most of the other girls. Perhaps Celia can ask Madison about Reagan’s makeup later.
Alana nods. “Of course, mistress. You decide what I get to tell people.”
Celia: Saturday evenings are not so busy as their mornings and afternoons. She’s usually the only one here after six, though sometimes she runs into Natalia or Louise working on inventory or counting down the drawer. Less so the former than the latter; Natalia still has school to keep her busy, and she’s that age where Saturday nights mean parties and boys.
“There is a longer conversation you and I will have once things settle. Privately. I have plans and dreams for you, Alana, but I would not sandwich what I think will ultimately be a very enjoyable evening telling you about them between what I must do tonight.” Celia reaches out, tucking a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.
GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” the ghoul beams under Celia’s touch.
Celia: “The girl who said she’s meeting with me. Did you notice anything different about her?”
GM: She shakes her head. “She seemed like she had something on her mind, though.”
Celia: “She does. She is newly Embraced. I hope to find out more about the nuances of what she has become this evening, and I would like you to assist me.”
GM: “She’s already good at blending in. She’s been drinking the tea.”
“But of course, mistress. Whatever you’d like me to do.”
Celia: So she does eat food. Interesting.
Celia takes Alana’s hand in hers.
“She doesn’t know about Jade. That remains between us. As does what I do with my clients, the sculpting. But there are other things…”
There’s no delicate way to put this. She already trusts Alana with the flesh work, the dual identities, knowing about her mortal family.
“Are you familiar with the duskborn?”
GM: The ghoul nods at Celia’s first instruction, then shakes her head. “Not really, mistress. Just that the Quarter has a lot of them, in the worse areas, and they’re pathetic half-vampires.”
Celia: She had expected as much. Not even true vampires know much about them.
“Miss Garrison is duskborn.”
GM: Alana makes an expression of distaste.
Celia: “I knew her in life, before my Embrace.”
GM: “Should Randy throw her out, mistress?”
Celia: Celia’s lips twitch in an aborted smile.
“No, ‘Lana. I’ve taken her in for now.”
“Her brother once did me a great kindness. I plan to return the favor to his sister.”
GM: “All right, mistress. But they’re supposed to be nothing but trouble. That’s what the ghouls I talk to say, who have domitors in worse territories.”
Celia: “They’re products of their environment. Treated poorly by the powers that be. Like any marginalized group, they chafe at this treatment. But becoming a Kindred doesn’t change who you are inside, and Miss Garrison, I believe, will bring a certain light to this world that many desperately need.” Just like her brother.
There’s a brief pause.
“She’s also important to someone I care deeply for, as well as myself, and her safety is the utmost concern. I don’t expect you to wait on her, but I do expect civility.”
GM: Alana inclines her head. “Okay, mistress. Whatever you want her to have, she’ll have.”
Celia: “I knew I could count on you, ’Lana.” Celia gives the ghoul a smile. “Come, let’s get you two introduced.”
She keeps a hold of Alana’s hand on the way into the room to find Dani.
GM: She finds the thin-blood in the Tranquility Room wearing a robe and sipping tea as she scrolls through her phone.
Celia: She doesn’t stare at the tea. But she looks at it, wondering at the answer to her questions.
“Hey, Dani,” she says finally, “thanks for coming over. I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is Alana. Alana, this is Miss Garrison.”
GM: Dani looks up and smiles at Celia’s voice. “Oh, it’s no big! I was glad just to get out. And we met when I came in, actually.”
Celia: “Perfect.” Celia takes a seat beside her, gesturing for Alana to do the same. “How was your day?”
GM: The ghoul sits down.
“It was good. Pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time on my phone or watching movies. Also studying for school. I have classes and work on Monday.”
Celia: “Where do you work? And what times are your classes and work?”
GM: “I’m a clerk for Judge Boner, at the Criminal District Court. It’s mainly thanks to my dad that I have it, ha.”
She provides her school and work schedule. It’s during the day, unsurprisingly.
Celia: “And you don’t burn. At all. Even with prolonged exposure?”
GM: Dani glances at Alana.
Celia: Celia nods in approval.
“Yes. Alana is my ghoul. Renfield.” They’d discussed them last night, but Celia is pleased that Dani had at least wanted to make sure that Alana was in on the secret before answering.
GM: “Okay. It’s nice to meet you for real.”
“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Miss Garrison,” says the ghoul.
“I don’t, anyways. I tested it for a while. I don’t like how it feels, but it’s not like I can reschedule school and work to after dark.”
Celia: “No,” Celia says with a small smile, “of course not. The job with Judge Boner; do you meet him at the courts or elsewhere? I need an exact part of the city.”
GM: “I meet him at the courthouse. It’s at 2700 Tulane Avenue.” That’s in Mid-City.
Celia: Celia pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that is decidedly human.
“Mid-City was the sight of a slaughter a number of years ago. The people in charge of it rounded up everyone like you, brought them together under false pretenses, and sicced the sheriff, his hounds, and a dozen other licks on them.”
Celia: “They still make runs through there regularly. And kill everyone they find.”
GM: “But during the day…?”
Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. Problem is you smell like a ghoul. If you run into anyone who can pick up on that they’ll bring you in to find out whose you are. If they find out you’re Duskborn, you’re as good as dead.”
“And, frankly, I don’t trust them enough to keep their word if they grant safe passage.”
GM: “But will I run into anyone who can smell me during the day? I can’t just drop my job.”
Celia: “It’s a risk, honestly. I’d feel safer about it if you got another job.”
GM: “Well, why is it a risk? There’s… renfields during the day, but not the sheriff or vampires. I really need this job! My grades and resume aren’t as good as Stephen’s…”
Celia: “Because if their renfields are looking out for you then they’ll bring you in, too. People patrol the borders.”
GM: “I could sneak in. They can’t just keep everyone out.”
Celia: “It’s like shoplifting, Dani. You might get away with it once. But keep doing it and the chances of getting caught go up.”
“Let me think about this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”
“I have some ideas, but I need some time to figure them out, and I need to talk to a few people. Being able to walk around during the day is safer, but it’s not foolproof.”
GM: “Okay, please, let’s figure it out. I really can’t lose this job! My dad’s the only reason I have it. I can’t just stop going in to work, either, I’d need to give notice.”
“And I have to keep going to school, too. Law school has attendance requirements thanks to that fratire author.”
Celia: “I know, Dani. But I can get you another job. I can’t get you another life.”
GM: “I know. But in law, though?”
Celia: “I know some people.”
“There are a few other things I need to know about what you can do. It’ll help us figure out how to get around this for now.” Celia nods toward the tea. “Do you have any trouble swallowing that or keeping it down?”
GM: “Okay. But I think we need to figure this out pretty soon. School and work are on Monday, like I said. I can miss some class and take sick time at work, but I can’t do that forever.”
“And no, it’s good tea.”
Celia: “Good to hear that. Do you still need to use the bathroom?”
GM: “Uh, sort of? I don’t need to as often, and my poop looks like whatever I was eating.”
“It’s not even really poop. It looks like something between chewed-up food and vomit. It doesn’t even smell.”
Celia: “Huh. Sorry for the weird question. We don’t actually eat. Anything I eat I need to throw back up afterward.”
GM: “That must suck. Like permanent bulimia.”
Celia: “Worse. Food doesn’t even taste good.”
“That’s good for you, though. Easier to blend in.”
GM: “Oh, how does it taste?”
Celia: “Like, ah, ash and shit and garbage sludge.”
GM: “Seriously? You can’t eat?”
Dani looks taken aback.
“That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Food and blood are basically the only things I’ve enjoyed this past week.”
Celia: “Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, to be honest.” Sometimes. “What about sex?”
GM: “I haven’t really been thinking about sex lately,” Dani says slowly.
Celia: “Right,” Celia says with a wince. “Most of us can’t enjoy that either. I’m trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum. We can fake it pretty good, but actual sex is kind of pointless to most.”
“That being said, I brought Alana in so we can try a few things.”
“Not sex,” she adds after a second.
GM: Dani tenses at first, then relaxes.
“All of that sounds so awful. It’s no wonder other vampires are jealous of duskborn. All the benefits and none of the drawbacks, besides racism.”
Celia: Celia gives that a nod, even though she doesn’t quite agree. Unless her theory turns out to be wrong.
“They hate anything different,” is all she says.
“So normally when we feed it feels really, really good to the vessel. It kind of fogs their memories a little bit too, which helps preserve the Masquerade. What I’m about to ask you to do is normally… uh, honestly just don’t do it outside of this situation. But I’d like to see what happens when you feed on Alana.”
GM: “Okay. If you’d be comfortable with that?” she asks Alana.
The ghoul smiles winsomely. “Of course. Like the mistress says, it feels very, very good.”
Dani gives the word ‘mistress’ a bit of a look, but doesn’t comment. “All right. Wrist or neck?”
“Wrist, please.” She extends her arm.
Dani sinks her fangs into it and drinks. Alana gives a little ‘happy noise’ and closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks.
It’s a less enthusiastic noise than Celia usually gets, though.
Dani stops after a little while and looks at the ghoul. Alana has a glazed but not unhappy look to her eyes.
Celia: Celia watches, both to make sure that Dani doesn’t take too much or hurt Alana and to see the effect it has on her ghoul. Once Dani pulls away she tells her to lick the wound if she hasn’t and sees if it closes.
She sees the visible effect it has on Alana and remembers what it felt like when Dani fed on her, but she asks about the rest of it. The glazed memories, mostly.
GM: The puncture marks close under Dani’s tongue.
GM: Alana says that she “remembers thinking this was a good idea,” but can only recall the pair’s precise words after being pressed.
Celia: Celia beams at Dani.
“This is excellent. I was worried there’d be gaping holes and no fugue state.”
GM: “Okay, so that’s good news?” Dani smiles back.
Celia: “You still shouldn’t be feeding publicly because you could be seen, but it’s better than the alternative. Some of us have a painful bite, I’ve heard, which makes everything more difficult. I’d still try to disguise it as something else to be very careful, but this is good.”
“Now. The thing you did the other night. The fear. Try it again.”
GM: Dani pulls back her lips, showing her small fangs, and growls.
Alana doesn’t look terribly perturbed.
Celia: Celia nods again.
“Can you make her think she’s your best friend?”
GM: “How do I do that?”
Celia: “It’s an emotional pull. Like how you made the man afraid. You kind of just… will it to happen. Like you think about what you want to happen, ball it up inside of you, and then gently ease it around her. The emotional tools are things that are more subtle than other powers, so you don’t want to force it on her, but you want to kind of crook a finger at her and bring her to you. Like a skittish bunny that you really want to pick up.”
Celia gestures for her to look at Alana.
“Look at her. See how pretty she is? She runs a spa, she’s brilliant, she’s really good with makeup, she tastes great. You want her to want to be your friend, though. Close your eyes if it helps and picture it. Hold the thought in your mind: you want her to want you. Not sexually, but like the best girlfriend in the world. You want to drink mimosas and watch rom coms with her.”
“Feel for her. Mentally. Pretend there’s a line that connects the two of you and send those feelings across it. Picture it like a bubble enveloping her. A big friendship bubble.”
“Or a soft, warm blanket. Put it around her shoulders.”
GM: Alana fairly basks under the praise.
“Okay,” Dani nods at the description. “A bubble, a blanket. That’s a good way to visualize it. You’re a pretty good teacher.”
Celia: Celia smiles at the both of them.
GM: The thin-blood closes her eyes a moment, then stares at the ghoul with an invitingly familiar expression, the sort she’d flash to a girlfriend she shares mimosas and rom coms with.
Alana just smiles pleasantly back.
Celia: “Ask her something,” Celia tells Dani, “something personal that she wouldn’t share with a stranger.”
GM: “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?” Dani asks.
“Sorry,” says Alana.
Celia: Celia nods again. She lifts her wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into her own flesh, holding out the fare to Dani.
“Drink, and we’ll try again.”
GM: Dani leans to imbibe.
She drinks hungrily and doesn’t stop.
Celia: Celia pulls her wrist away.
GM: Dani watches it longingly for a moment.
“…sorry. You taste really good.”
Celia: Her smile is fainter than normal.
“I’ll manage,” she says to the apology. “I have a theory that you take on the abilities of those you feed from. Like Rogue from X-Men. I don’t know if it’s the predominant abilities or any ability, so… I think we’ll test both.”
Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers, long and sharp and beautiful. She holds them up to Dani.
“Try this. Imagine your nails are claws. Like a cat. Or Wolverine.”
“You’ve seen X-Men, right? Stephen introduced me. I assume you’ve seen it.”
GM: “Oh, wooow! Yes, I have. Those are so cool, and pretty!” Dani exclaims.
“Everything about the mistress is cool and pretty,” Alana remarks contently.
Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.
“Thanks, ‘Lana. You try, Dani. See if you can make them happen. Like Wolverine. Just pretend you’re about to fight some bad guys and you left your knife in your other pants.”
GM: Dani holds up her fingers and concentrates. Nothing happens.
“Why can’t I?” she asks, frustrated.
Celia: “Not every lick learns every ability. The claws aren’t something most people in my clan know. It’s not rare, but it’s unusual. That’s also why we’re practicing, to find out what you can do, which might let us find out who did this to you. Each clan has their own gifts. Problem is not a lot is known about duskborn, but finding out what you can do will help others.”
GM: “Okay. That makes sense. But why isn’t there much known about duskborn?” Dani asks.
Celia: “Because of the policy of open genocide. Vampires can’t generally kill each other without getting into trouble. But in most cities they’re not considered vampires, so they just die by the dozen. It’s like… being an illegal immigrant. You kind of don’t exist. Or a slave before the Civil War.”
“Also I think they’re kind of a recent appearance. So a combination of things. Sorry to be blunt.”
GM: Dani doesn’t say anything for a moment. Just processes Celia’s words.
“I didn’t ask for this.”
Celia: “I know, Dani. I know. We’re going to make the best of it. I have some favors to call in to get some things done for you. And the Quarter is the best place for you while we get it settled. At least here you’ve got someone sharing domain with you, you know?”
GM: “I do. And I’m really thankful for that,” she says, sincerely. “What sorts of things and favors are you thinking? I don’t want to put you out…”
Celia: “A lot of them are pushed to the edges. The ghetto. And once you finish this semester there’s more flexibility in what we can do, I think. How much longer do you have left for school?”
“Don’t worry about the favors. I’ve got it covered. But if I need help with something I’ll let you know if you want.”
GM: “I still have this year, and next year,” Dani answers. “I’m in the 3+3 program that lets you start law school during your senior year in undergrad.”
“And, please, let me know. You’ve already done so much.”
Celia: “Your brother meant the world to me, and to my family. He was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed him, and he pulled me out of a hole so deep and dark I never thought I’d be free. And you, Dani, you should have been my sister. I can’t change the world, but I can make this little piece of it more bearable.”
“Family means a lot to me. My ghouls, they mean a lot to me too. You can ask Alana how others like her are treated. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I need to be a monster. And it might take a while for you. I know my adjustment was difficult and I didn’t have the stigma of being duskborn. Their world moves slowly because they’re immortal. Progress and change take time. But I promise, Dani, we’ll get you to a place where you’re comfortable with who and what you are.”
“And hey,” she adds, “some of them look down on me because I still enjoy sex, so fuck ’em, you know?”
GM: Dani stares at Celia with shining eyes upon her declaration. Some of it has to be the bond, but no doubt much of it is real too, and the bond has but amplified those emotions.
“I’m sorry that didn’t get to happen, you marrying my brother,” she gets out. “But I’m really glad you found me, Celia. Just so glad. I don’t know where else I would’ve turned. I trust that you’re going to make things turn out as well as you can. And I know you don’t want me to repay you, but… I’d still like to do something for you back, now or in the future. Just name it.”
Celia: Celia takes her hand. She feels bad about the bond. She really does. But it’s for Dani’s own good, just like pushing her brother to let her stay was for his good. It has to be. She’s not a monster. She’d said that. That means it’s true, that she’s not a monster. She’s doing the best thing she can for their family.
“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re safe with me. Always.”
“Now, let’s try that bubble again.”
Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: It takes a few tries, and some patient tutoring, but the bubble meets with some success. Dani manages to inflame Alana with adoration for Celia, prompting her to start hungrily kissing and fondling her domitor.
Celia: It’s an unusual reaction for the fact that it’s usual for Alana, less so that it came from Dani’s attempt to manipulate her. After she gently cools Alana’s ardor with a stray thought she returns her attention to Dani. She lets Alana stay on her lap, though, so long as she keeps her hands to herself.
She asks Dani what she did, what she was focusing on, so that she can better understand the ability that she had shown.
GM: Alana makes herself at home on that lap like there’s no place she’d rather be.
Dani says she “felt for what was there” and tried to give it a push. A blanket, like Celia said, but one Dani was picking up from the ghoul’s lap to drape around her shoulders.
Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s a good explanation of what she had just done as well, though she’d taken the blanket back off Alana and settled it on the ghoul’s lap instead. It’s a step in the right direction, and it tells her at least a little bit about Dani’s capabilities.
She tells her that the ability she’s using is called “star mode,” though Celia has always just referred to it as “charm,” and there are some who have more traditional names for it as well. Unfortunately Celia doesn’t know a lot of the other skills, so she might need to bring in someone else if Dani wants to find out what her capabilities are.
Celia, of course, has no idea how she’s going to explain this to anyone. “I’m running some experiments on thin-bloods, can I borrow your vitae?”
She offers to take a blood sample to her warlock friend, if Dani wants, to see if he can find anything out for her. Not that she thinks Pete will be much inclined to help a duskborn. She also kind of feels like she already owes him. But maybe.
GM: Dani is pleased to hear she’s making progress and asks what other things she could learn to do. Can she fly?
Dani thinks that Celia’s offer sounds like a good idea and draws a blood sample for her.
She also asks if she could be there. She’d like to meet some other vampires.
Celia: Flying, Celia tells her, is a very advanced skill. The only lick she knows who is capable of it has been around for over a hundred years. If Celia ever manages to learn it she promises Dani that she’ll bring her along for a ride.
Celia watches Dani draw the blood sample, wanting to know if she’s able to mend her flesh as easily as true-blooded vampires can.
There’s a pause while she considers the request. Generally duskborn only mingle with other duskborn. But if anyone would be open to meeting her it probably would be Pete, so Celia says she can ask him. She also wants Dani to meet a friend of hers, but she’s still working on a way to sneak him in. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, she jokes. The good news is they’re both already dead.
“By the way,” she asks, “did you get a hold of your father for dinner?”
GM: Dani’s eyebrows raise when Celia tells her that flying real. She’d love to come along for that ride.
Dani draws the blood by biting her wrist and licks it closed when she’s done.
Dani would very much like to meet Celia’s friend.
“I did,” she nods. “I told him there was a friend I really wanted him to meet, who knew Stephen, and who wanted to talk to him about Stephen. I didn’t say it was you. I wasn’t really sure how we’d explain how you, uh, only broke his heart because you were a vampire.”
Celia: “Probably for the best,” Celia admits. “I’m still working on a cover story for him.”
Celia: Celia nods. She asks Dani to excuse her rudeness for a minute and digs out her phone to call her mom.
GM: Her mother picks up promptly.
“Hi, sweetie! How was… your dinner?”
Celia: “It went well,” Celia tells her. “I’d like to tell you all about it. Are you going to be up for a bit? I have a client in…” Celia glances at the time, “soon, but it should only take an hour or so.”
GM: “Oh yes, definitely! It isn’t all that late, anyways.”
Celia: “Do you mind if I swing by after?”
GM: “Oh, that’d just make my night, sweetie! Please do!”
Her mother’s enthusiasm sounds as sincere as always. She loves having her daughter over. But it’s plain she wants to hear about that dinner with her ex, too.
Celia: Celia doesn’t blame her. All girls want to hear about their exes.
“Perfect. Hey, Mom… you remember Stephen, right? From college? I just ran into his little sister. And we got to talking about Stephen, and one thing led to another and… well, do you want to have dinner with her and her dad? With you and Emily and I?”
GM: “Oh, I definitely remember Stephen,” her mother says quietly. “That poor, poor family. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.”
“Yes, I’d love to have dinner with them. Over at our place?”
Celia: “If it’s not too much trouble. Maybe tomorrow or Monday?”
GM: “It isn’t, sweetie. Stephen did just so much for us. We wouldn’t even be in this house to have guests over for dinner, if he hadn’t put us in touch with Viv…”
“I’ll cook something extra special. But please let me know soon whether it’s going to be tomorrow or Monday, so I can know when to start cooking.”
“And so Emily can make plans.”
Celia: Celia considers her schedule. She doesn’t think she has anything pressing either night. And why not just go for it? The biggest hurdle is going to be clearing it with her grandsire, which she plans on taking care of tonight.
“Let’s do tomorrow, if that’s okay.”
GM: “Okay, tomorrow it is. You didn’t mention her with dinner, but Lucy’s obviously still going to be home.”
Celia: “What? How dare she. Send her to the movies, Ma.”
“Just kidding, that’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, alright? Love you.”
GM: “Okay, we’ll talk soon. I love you too!”
Celia: Celia hangs up and looks back to Dani.
“Tomorrow it is.”
GM: Dani looks up from her own phone.
“Awesome. I heard something about someone not going to the movies?”
Celia: “My daughter.”
GM: Dani pauses. “Oh. That must be tough, to be a vampire and a mom.”
Celia: “My mother raises her.”
GM: “That makes sense.” She pauses again. “If vampires can’t have kids… you’d have gotten pregnant nine months before you broke up with Stephen…”
“Is he the father?”
Celia: Celia hesitates.
Lucy isn’t her secret. But it’s a good explanation, isn’t it? She’d told Stephen as much. That they could just tell Henry she’s Stephen’s child. And why not? What’s the harm? If Henry is as broken as Dani says he is, maybe he could use something beautiful in his life—
GM: Dani frowns. “Wait, no. He never said anything about you being pregnant.”
Celia: Her ruminations are cut off by Dani’s words.
“No,” Celia says.
“Lucy is not my child. Her mother was raped by a terrible person and didn’t want to abort her. I agreed to take her in, but… I died.”
“But to protect her mother, I’ve lied and said she’s mine.”
GM: “Oh,” says Dani. “I’m sorry. But that was really, really kind of you.”
It’s just as well. Diana and Emily would probably look askance if Dani showed up full of excitement to meet her niece.
Celia: “A lot of people who knew me assume that Stephen is the father. We had a scare, once, but… well, I mean, I was Embraced shortly thereafter, so even if something had happened it died with me.”
“After Stephen died… I thought about… continuing the lie, you know, and introducing her to your father, but Stephen told me once that he’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie, and it wasn’t my place.”
GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Celia…” Dani repeats at Celia’s first words, squeezing her hand.
“And Stephen is right. Dad wouldn’t want to believe a beautiful lie.”
“I wouldn’t either. The law exists to maintain justice, and justice can’t exist without truth.”
Celia: “You sound just like him.”
GM: Dani gives a faint smile. “Same dad. Same family.”
Celia: “You’re good people, Dani. You and him and your dad.”
GM: “Thanks. My dad can seem stern or distant to a lot of people, especially since Stephen died, but he’s good underneath.”
Celia: “He warned me about that same thing, you know. Before I met you guys for dinner. I was so nervous I was going to say something stu—silly.”
GM: “I don’t think you did. He didn’t say anything later, either.”
“He has gotten harder and less outgoing since Stephen died, though. Like I said, part of him did too, after that. His son was just his everything.”
Celia: “I can’t imagine how hard losing a child is. There’s…” Celia forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “A friend of mine asked if you’d be happier in another city, so you don’t have to hide what you are from him. And… ordinarily, you know, I’d have said yes. But I know how losing Stephen hurt your dad, and, Dani…” Celia reaches out, “I keep thinking about… what I’d say to him, you know, if you disappeared too, if you died…”
GM: Dani emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no, I don’t want to leave!”
“I mean, he might rather have Stephen than me, but I’m still all he has left.”
“And all of my friends and people I know are in the city. I’d planned to go into law here.”
Celia: “That’s why I’m so uptight about everything with the territories. I know it’s awful of me, I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to fence you in.”
GM: “Could we… negotiate?”
Celia: “I’m going to try.”
“I can manage your school, I think. The person who runs the territory is a hardass, but I have something he wants, and I’m happy to trade it to him for you. It’s the Anarchs that run Mid-City that make me nervous.”
GM: “Could we just pay a toll? Because that’s what the Mafia and other organized crime groups do, sometimes. They let outsiders do business in their territory in return for a cut of the money.”
Celia: “Usually, yes. That’s what I’d do. It’s the fact that they’re the ones who claim they’re for equality and then sell everyone out the minute they get a better deal that keeps me wary.”
GM: “They sound like scumbags.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“It’s not even that their ideals are flawed, it’s just… they’re so two-faced about it, you know? Like. A lot of the elders, they can be awful. Play games. Put you down. Make up stupid rules. But you know what to expect from them. And yeah they’re old school and racist and I sometimes wish they’d all meet the sun, but you know what to expect. How to act. The rules chafe, but you learn them like it’s a game and you succeed.”
GM: “But the Anarchs say they’re on your side.”
Celia: “And then they call the sheriff on you. And watch you die.”
“There was a girl… the massacre, right? This one girl was real vocal about it, sticking up for the Duskborn, but the minute the sheriff showed up she was the first to bail.”
“If she hadn’t who knows what might have happened. Maybe the Anarchs would have stood with everyone else. And sure she feels bad, but those people are dead.”
GM: “Well, you see stuff like that in the law and organized crime, too. People who maybe don’t mean bad, but who get caught up in bad situations, don’t put actions to words, and make things worse.”
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia agrees, “maybe that’s what it was. I can buy that. Bad situation all the way around. And I don’t blame her because it wasn’t all her fault, you know? But the people who are supposed to lead the cause? They knew it was coming. They set it up. I like their push for equality. But as long as those two are still around? There’s no way.”
GM: “Boot them out, then. Maybe better leaders will turn up.”
Celia: “They’re both super old and powerful. But I’d like to.”
GM: “Find other people who feel the same way. If there’s any hope for the movement, there’ll be people do.”
“And if there aren’t any, then maybe it doesn’t have a future anyway.”
Celia: “Maybe you can help. We can do it together.”
GM: “I think I’d like to do that with you.”
“I know I haven’t actually seen very much yet, but none of this society seems at all fair or just from what you’ve described, especially towards vampires like me.”
Celia: “Societies are built to keep the people on top happy. That’s what cultures do with anything, and they shove everyone else to the side. Keep them down. Powerless. They do it with words just as much as they do it with deed. You see it in religions a lot, it’s really obvious there, but in politics and… everything, really. They have terms for duskborn that are unflattering, spewed out like any other racist, bigoted term to marginalize them.”
“And the problem is that the people on top of our society have been there for a long time. You get more powerful as you age. So you hold onto it better.”
“And if you live forever and keep amassing power as you age?” Celia gives a half-shrug. “I’m pretty sure some places used to worship them like gods.”
GM: “How old are the oldest vampires here?”
Celia: “Well… one of the Toreador’s primogen is… centuries old. I don’t think she’s ever spoken publicly about her date of Embrace. The Brujah primogen was Embraced during the French Revolution. The lord of the French Quarter was part of the Sun King’s court. The prince… god, seven hundred? Eight? There are a lot like us, you know, newer blood. Late twentieth or early twenty-first century. But enough that were born hundreds of years ago.”
“Two of the people I regularly hang with were Embraced in the early 1900s.”
GM: “Wow,” says Dani. “They must have so many things to talk about. But that’s also… tragic, if they’re what’s keeping vampire society as unjust as it is. If they have all that power and experience but don’t use it for good.”
Celia: “It’s like this all over is the problem. There’s like… I guess there’s people above them that keep them in line, too. And they have these people that kind of travel around like detectives making sure everyone follows all the rules that they put down.”
“So it isn’t even just here. It’s everywhere.”
GM: “So there’s a government, beyond the city here? Who’s ultimately in charge?”
Celia: “I guess you could call it that, yeah.”
GM: “Is there a king, or a president, or…?”
Celia: “I think it’s a council.”
GM: Dani looks curious. “You think?”
Celia: “So… each territory is usually kind of self-governing, and as long as there aren’t any problems they usually just let us do our thing, you know? Travel can be pretty dangerous because of hunters and loops and stuff, so we don’t jet all over the place. And a lot of the old ones don’t like technology.”
“A lot of information is kind of like… not need to know, but just not readily available.”
GM: “That sounds like it would benefit the people at the top.”
Celia: “Exactly. Which is why they do it.”
GM: “So we don’t even know how our own government works, beyond the local level?”
Celia: “People do. My friend probably knows more. I bet he’d be happy to explain it to you.”
“Just, uh, don’t tell him it’s because I couldn’t. His sire is just more connected and into learning and history than mine.”
GM: “Secret’s safe,” Dani smiles.
Celia: “Appreciate it.”
“All right. Go ahead and give your dad a call. My client is supposed to be here in a few and I need to get the table ready. Take Alana’s number in case you run into any trouble during the day and can’t reach me. I’ll talk to some people about what we’re going to do with your school and work and everything else, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”
Celia pulls Dani in for a hug before she goes.
“We’re gonna change everything, Dani. I can feel it.”
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Celia: Jade waits for Rusty to arrive.
This late at night she walks the halls of her spa alone. Once she might have been bothered by this fact, but these days she knows that she can handle most of the things that go bump in the night. She had sent Alana home for the night after Dani’s exit to sleep off the effects of the feeding and emotional manipulation after asking about what Accou had said about their meeting, and promised that she and Alana would have a ladies night one evening this week to talk and unwind after a decidedly eventful week.
Now, though, her focus and attention moves to the man who will be coming through the door at any moment, already planning the treatment in her mind. She doesn’t keep notes for Rusty. She had, once, but years of working with him to reduce the pain from his disease have led her to conclude that the problem sticks to its usual haunts, and he sees her frequently enough that she no longer needs to consult the medical textbooks.
The thought of medical anything makes her think of her father’s promise to fix Diana. She can’t help but wonder which of the licks in Houston he’d get to do the treatment for him, but his mortal daughter, of course, doesn’t know anything about that. She’d been thinking of taking Diana there herself if her teacher or the archon fail to make a timely appearance, but if Maxen can take care of it…
And when, she wonders, had she decided that she trusts him with her mother?
The whole thing could be a ruse.
But it nags at her, the thought that what he’d said is true. A demon inside of him. A metaphor for the blood? He hadn’t smelled like a ghoul, but if he’d gotten rid of it… Or did he mean, truly, a demon? It’s too bad the priest who’d done the exorcism had died or she could simply swing by and find out.
But if there was a demon inside her father, what does that make her sire?
She has no time to figure it out. Not tonight. Tonight she has more worldly concerns, things that don’t involve demons and devils and soul-stealing, ghost-eating monsters. Things like muscles and blood and nerves that send constant pain signals to the brain of her ghoul, that no amount of muscle work will ever completely fix because the entire body itself needs realigned and reworked.
But she can help. Like she does with her mother, she can help until she finds a permanent solution to his problem.
Veronica had once told her that she doesn’t like broken things, but Jade seems to collect them.
She waits for Rusty, and when he walks through the door—slower than normal, she can’t help but notice, and she could kick herself for letting him go so long without her—she smiles at him and takes him back into the treatment room.
GM: Alana reports back that Accou’s herald said it was not necessary to set up a meeting between them over the matter of Cloe. “She said the primogen was willing to wait until North was back in the city, even if that took years. I guess being an elder makes you patient.”
“She also said to convey the primogen’s thanks for your offer of assistance, and that he will avail himself of it when the archon returns.”
“She also said that he would be available in seven nights to discuss Evan Bourelle.”
Celia: Elders and their pretend plans.
But she agrees, because she doesn’t have another choice.
GM: Jade is aware that many elders have real plans, commitments, and obligations, just as surely as any mortal mayor or CEO is likely to have a packed schedule.
Celia: Excuses, excuses.
When she’s an elder she’s going to make people wait months to see her.
Provided she makes it that long.
GM: Rusty, in any case, arrives at the spa and greets his domitor with a wordless nod. The ghoul looks somewhat stiff as he strides inside, and from more than just the time since their last session. He’s always looked a little stiff.
Needing someone else doesn’t come naturally to Regina’s son.
Or to someone whose family makes their own living off the needy.
Celia: Which is why Jade never offers to help, or makes a big deal out of their arrangement. She simply has the table lower for him to get onto without her assistance and a stool nearby in case he needs it. She understands pride. His pride, especially, after all these years.
She doesn’t ask him about the work she’d given him, either. This is his time, and when he’s on her table he is just another client. Everything else can wait.
Face up is the only instruction she gives him.
Once he’s settled she begins her work.
GM: “Still looking into Summer,” he says he lies down, bringing up a topic where Jade needs him. “We hit a new lead. She used to live at a shithole apartment in the Quarter for a little while.”
Celia: Jade nods her head, letting him speak while she works.
She starts with the neck. No face, no scalp. Those were the curt words he had said to her that first session when Reggie brought him in to see if she could help, and those are the rules she abides with Rusty. He doesn’t want the relaxation from the face and scalp. He wants the real work, the problem solving.
Her hands begin at the base of his neck, gliding upward in one long, smooth motion on either side of the cervical vertebrae. No pressure on the bones themselves, but close enough on either side to find the spots she needs. One hand and then the other, she repeats the motion.
GM: The ghoul pauses to sigh.
“Interviewed some neighbors who recognized her description. She had a roommate.”
Celia: Her fingers press upward into his muscles. She makes a sound that might be a “hm?” to show she’s listening.
Jade tilts his head to one side, cradling his cheek with one hand while the other strips the scalenes. Thumb anchored against his traps, the rest of that hand dips beneath his back to pull upward on the muscle fibers.
GM: Rusty falls silent again for a moment as Jade works her magic. He might not call it that like others do, but the silence says enough.
“Bad roommate too, seems like.”
“Pained noises from their unit. Sounds of throwing up.”
Celia: Perhaps if she had not just come from dinner with her father, if her mind was not already replaying the memories of her childhood, the words would mean nothing to her. Pained sounds. Throwing up. Anyone can throw up. She throws up every time she forces herself to eat.
But she is thinking about it. How her mother used to make those same noises when she was a child. How she’d thought it was stress, or pushing herself too hard at ballet, or maybe morning sickness with another surprise baby.
But no, none of that. A man with a demon inside of him had beaten her.
Maybe it’s a leap. Maybe she’s seeing connections where there are none. Maybe she has spent too much time with Elyse and the moon clan’s “enlightenment” has rubbed off on her.
Still, she digs.
With both her hand and mouth she digs for more. Information from his search: who is the roommate? Was she making the sounds, or was Summer? Has it continued since Summer’s disappearance? Information from his body: her fingers tap the message across his skin, stroking, gliding, kneading, until she finds what she looks for and presses down to release the bundle of tightly coiled muscle fibers that is so often responsible for the pain reverberating down his back.
GM: “Summer only lived here after she disappeared,” Rusty says thinly.
Celia: She chips away at it a little at a time, holding and releasing, holding and releasing, and beneath her touch the muscles melt like butter, releasing him from the aches that so frequently plague his body.
She pauses at the tone.
“I assume,” she says, and here her voice takes on the icy tones of her sire, “that if she were still there it would be a simple pick up. Ergo, another disappearance.”
GM: Rusty pauses again too as Jade’s hands do their work.
“It’s a disappearance if someone was expecting her to remain where she was, and she didn’t. This place was a shithole. There’s lots of turnover in tenants.”
Celia: Her eyes roll so far back into her head that they threaten to disappear. She leaves the topic of the roommate alone. If she were worth looking into Rusty would have already done it.
The nodule in his back finally disappears. Jade gives it a final stroke to ease the discomfort from the pressure she had applied and turns his head to work the other side.
GM: Rusty has not been able to verify who the roommate was. The lease was in Summer’s name, and she neglected to mention to the property manager there would be a roommate. The other tenants only think there was, because they sometimes heard voices from the unit.
Summer is gone again, in any case. There was an altercation in the building around when she left. Gunshots fired, though no one (known) dead. Violence is not uncommon around the property.
Celia: Jade thanks him for the update, her frosty tone since thawed. She tells him that she appreciates his work while her left thumb strips the left scalene twice before moving to the shoulders. This side of his body holds different tension: rather than work the lats she unrolls the traps to find the origin of his discomfort.
GM: As to the other two matters, Rusty has mixed news.
He thinks the name “Lee Andrin” that Jade got was a fake. There’s only a bare handful of people by that name, who live in Montana and Connecticut. One’s a retired rancher and the other’s a chiropractor.
Rusty hasn’t found any evidence they’ve ever set foot in Louisiana.
He has, however, had more success with Roxanne. He’s now in her Suncloud account. He passes its information to Jade.
Celia: Disappointing. But she’d gotten the name through a blood ritual… is it possible it had failed? She could ask Pete, she supposes. Maybe she’d heard wrong. The “glinko” thing hadn’t made any sense to her either.
She doesn’t sigh, but she nods her head and asks if he and Reggie can look into anyone with a fake ID (they know plenty of people, Reggie had told her once), or any other Andrins. She tells Rusty that she’d had to divine the name and it’s possible the “reception” was bad. She also mentions she has his friends’ phones, and asks if it’s possible they’ll help.
She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised about the name, in any case. The other hunters had used fake names as well.
GM: He says they can try, and that the phones likely will.
Celia: She’ll get them to him once they’re done here and showers him with compliments for getting into Roxanne’s account.
If he has nothing more for her in those regards, Jade continues the treatment. She waits until he’s done with his report to flip him onto his stomach—once he’s face down it’s more difficult to talk—and coaxes him into relaxing by phrasing it that she needs to feel for a few certain things on his back, and it would be very helpful if he could simply let his body be heavy and allow her to do the motions.
Celia: Only to herself does Jade admit to a certain amount of disappointment that Lee Andrin had not been so easy to find. She’d hoped that she could bring him to the Evergreen tonight, question him, and find out where the leak in security had come from in regards to Roderick. She doesn’t really want to think that it’s Coco, but if only a handful of them had known about his haven…
It worries her that her boyfriend isn’t safe. It worries her that she hasn’t been able to solve this problem for him, that she can’t balance the guilt in her heart with the knowledge that she had been able to eliminate a threat to his person, at least. It isn’t Rusty’s fault, she tells herself, it’s her own. She hadn’t heard right. She’d asked the wrong questions when Pete had used the ritual. She’d wasted the blood and now she doesn’t get another chance because the bodies are deep in the Gulf by now and while she doubts that Roderick or his krewe hadn’t drained their bodies no doubt that’s long gone too.
She is, isn’t she? If she can’t fuck her way out of a problem then she doesn’t know how to solve it. No wonder Savoy and her sire keep her at arm’s length. No wonder her “grandsire” won’t see her for a week, and Veronica lost interest in her, and the only reason Garcia wanted to speak with her was to make a pass and Gui had only wanted to fuck even after she’d showed him that cool thing and Pete… Pete just thinks she’s stupid, she knows it. Pretty but stupid. Someone had said that to her once, hadn’t they? While she was on her knees, someone had told her she was pretty but stupid. Someone who was supposed to help but didn’t, who just made it worse.
Celia’s memories won’t leave Jade alone. They drag her under and batter her from all sides, every nasty thing anyone has ever said about her, and even her father’s “you’re brilliant” isn’t enough to keep them at bay.
No wonder Nico left her.
Maybe her dad should have sent her to the dollhouse.
Maybe the wrong daughter died.
And that’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she can’t take it back, that she can’t fix her family, that she caused all of these problems and she can’t fix them. Every time she tries she gets it wrong.
It’s like a dam bursting. She’s glad Rusty stays silent on the table, that she doesn’t need to keep up appearances around him at least, because she can’t stop the flood of emotions, and only her hands on his body keep her centered.
Every beat of his heart thrums through her, reminding her who she is, where she is, what she is.
She can fix this, at least. She can do that much. She can fix the aches and pains that plague his body, can give him back his ability to walk, can take the tight lines from his face and the whiteness from his knuckles. She’s a physical creature. This is a physical thing. Like a Brujah who only knows how to smash, she’s the Toreador that only knows how to make bodies better.
So she works. She fixes. She glides and strokes and kneads her way down his back, working at the muscles, making them pliable, releasing the tension that she finds from the traps to the glutes. All along the spine she taps and vibrates her fingers to take away his pain because this, at least, this she understands. Bodies she understands. They don’t ask her to know about politics or hidden motives or hunters. They just lay there and let her work upon them and make them better.
Someone had told her that once, too. That she makes things better.
So she does that with Rusty know. She makes his body better because sometimes that’s all she can do.
And maybe that’s enough.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: However low a girl might feel, there’s always one place she can go to feel loved and accepted.
Or at least that Celia can go.
“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” her mother exclaims, smiling as she pulls her daughter close for a hug. Like it’s a treat that Celia came by again so soon.
Celia: Seeing her mother again makes her feel lighter than she has all night. She holds Diana close when her mom brings her in for a hug, content for long moments to just soak in the love this woman holds for her.
Even the dark thoughts that threaten to surface stay dormant in the wake of such shining affection.
“Hi, Momma. It’s good to see you too. Thanks for having me over.”
GM: “Thanks for coming over,” she smiles, rubbing a hand along Celia’s back. “I love having you over all the time, like this. It just makes me so thankful we still live in the same city, there are so many families that don’t.”
“I know you just went out to eat, but if you’re still hungry, just say the word. We have leftover casserole and cake, still. And some other things in the fridge.”
Celia: “How did I know you were going to offer me food,” Celia says with a laugh, following Diana into the kitchen. “I’ll let you know if I get hungry, but I think I’m okay for now.”
GM: “Because I’m your mother, that’s why,” Diana smiles back. “But okay. Let’s go get Emily, she’s in her room studying.”
Celia: “Actually, Mom,” Celia interrupts, “it might be better if just you hear this first. And then you can decide how much you want to share with her.”
“Emily has really strong opinions on Dad, and I… want you to be able to hear this without them.”
GM: “All right, that’s fair,” her mom nods. “Though I’ll tell her everything when we’re done, of course.”
Celia: “Of course. I just want to give you time to process first.”
GM: Her mom nods and heads over to the couch to sit down. She pulls up her knees and wraps her arms around her ankles as she looks up at Celia with an expression that’s simultaneously nervous and excited. Almost like a schoolgirl’s.
Celia: “There’s some good and some bad and some ugly,” Celia tells her as she takes a seat in the chair across the room. “As with all things, I think. Do you have a preference on where I start?”
GM: Diana pats a spot on the couch for Celia to sit down next to her. “Oh, wherever you think best, sweetie. But maybe get the bad over with first, like a shot, if you’re not sure.”
Celia: “I don’t want to upset you,” Celia says gently, abandoning her chair to sit beside her mother instead. “And if you don’t want to talk about something I won’t force you, okay? But a lot of stuff came up at dinner tonight. And some of it you might not have wanted me to know, and some of it… answers a lot of lingering questions about… about things that have happened to the family.”
She pauses to take a breath she doesn’t really need, mentally preparing herself.
“We talked about Grandma, a little bit. And why you don’t get along. About the school. And… I just… I wanted to say, Mom, I’m really sorry that I tried to force that relationship on you with her.”
GM: Her mother’s expression turns very still at the word ‘school.’
She doesn’t say anything.
Celia: “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how painful it was, having a relationship with her. He told me that you talked him out of sending me there, and I’ve heard… I’ve heard things, I know some of what they do there, and… I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry I doubted you about her, I never thought that she’d do that to her own daughter.”
“So I just… wanted to say I won’t bring her up again around you.”
GM: Celia’s mother still doesn’t say anything. She presses her head against her raised knees, as if to keep her daughter from looking at her face.
Finally, she just nods.
Celia: “I love you, Mom. Even knowing that. Not because I pity you, I don’t look down on you for it, I don’t think less of you. You didn’t have a choice. I love who you are. And I would have loved who you were, I bet, and if you ever want to talk about it…” She doesn’t force her presence on her mother, but she touches the hand that’s wrapped around her legs. “I’ve seen really ugly things in the past few years, Mom, and if you ever want to talk about it, anything about it, I’m here. I’m listening. I believe you.”
“He didn’t tell me to hurt me. If it helps. He didn’t tell me to hurt our relationship, or to hurt you. And he didn’t say anything bad about you, ever. I asked once, about the divorce, about what happened, and he told me that he didn’t want to insult your virtue by speaking of it.”
GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t look up for a few moments, though neither does she shy from Celia’s touch. When she finally does, she looks as if she’s blinking back tears before she pulls her daughter in for another hug. It’s desperate and tight, not warm like the embrace the two exchanged only minutes earlier.
Celia: Celia holds her close. She knows how painful it must be for her mother to speak openly about the things she’d gone through at the Dollhouse. And Celia can’t even tell her that she knows. She can’t ever tell her that she knows, or that she’s been there, that she’s helped. That makes her the worst sort of person: complicit.
She’s glad she had never made a doll for Lucy. Glad that she had never brought over any of the dolls she had made, that she hadn’t brought Lucy-Doll over to the house to show her mother.
GM: Their stares always seemed to linger for so long when she would get ready to visit her mother’s house.
“I’m… I’m sorry…” Diana finally gets out in a small voice. She doesn’t let go.
Celia: “Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”
GM: Celia’s mother just gives a half-sniff, half-sob and holds on to her.
Celia: “You’re safe now, Momma. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”
GM: Another lie. Elyse has said she brings in dolls for ‘touch-ups’ before. Dolls require maintenance and repair, sometimes more advanced than their owners can provide. Just like Lucy does.
Diana clings to her daughter like she would a husband. Minutes silently pass with the pair’s arms around one another.
“Is that… all the bad news,” Celia’s mother finally says.
Celia: But Payton can’t hurt her, and Celia won’t let Elyse get her hands on her mother again.
She holds her mother for long moments, letting her cry as she needs. She doesn’t press for details. She wants to know, of course she does, but Diana isn’t ready to speak about it, and Celia will not force her to unburden herself.
“I think so. Aside from that… dinner went well. Really well.”
GM: Diana pulls away at last to dab at her eyes.
“Tell me about it,” she sniffs. “Tell me something good and happy.”
Celia: “He’s… different, Mom. Really different. Like he was before he became… you know, who he was when we were growing up. It was like seeing a completely new person, one that I thought had died a long time ago. He remembers what he did, he knows he hurt you, and he said he’s been working on a way to make amends. Because ‘a man doesn’t just waltz back into someone’s life with apologies,’ that’s what he said.”
“But he did start there. With an apology for everything he’d done. How he should have sheltered and protected us and he abused us instead, kind of… a lot of stuff like that. How he messed up. He said Logan has been pushing him to reconnect but he wasn’t ready yet, because he wanted to do something instead of just saying words.”
GM: Celia’s mother looks like she’s about to start crying again. “Oh, he’s such a good man. I told you, Celia, he was so gentle…”
Celia: “And he told me that we’d succeeded despite him. That even though he’d tried to break us we were stronger and better than that, and he… I said something ki—kind of dumb, I misunderstood, and I thought he was going to call me stupid again, and then I said it, later, and he… he said I wasn’t, that I never had been, and I shouldn’t care, you know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.”
Celia’s mother isn’t the only one that looks like she wants to cry.
“And I hated him for so long, and now I just… I just kept thinking, he’s not even my dad. Why does it matter. He’s not my dad. And if he knew that, would he have been nice to me tonight? And I can’t tell him. And I just feel like a big liar.”
GM: Diana cups her daughter’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, Celia, you aren’t stupid, you’ve never been, not ever…”
The reminder of the lie, though, makes the happier expression on her face die again.
“It’s my fault there, baby, not yours…”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I know. I know it’s not my fault, but it still affects me, and you said… years ago, you said that the Roberts people knew somehow, and Dad is running against him next year, and what if it comes out?”
GM: Diana blinks. “He’s running…?”
Celia: “He’s running for governor.”
GM: “Oh my… oh my goodness! That’s wonderful! He told you this? Even the buildup to the election’s still some time away…”
Celia: “Yeah. I wondered… you know, a little bit if some of this was because he needed to fix his image to run for higher office.”
“But I… don’t think that’s true. I mean, it is, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”
“We had a… it’s kind of…” Celia trails off. She clears her throat. “It’s kind of weird, what he said, and I don’t… really know how to explain it…”
GM: Her mother takes her hands. “Go on, sweetie, I know you can, you’re so smart.”
Celia: She tells her mother about Isabel reaching out to their father. About the arguments they’d get into on the phone, and how Maxen had struggled to listen to her because he couldn’t beat her via call, and how if he’d tried she would have just disappeared again. She tells her how they’d talked a lot about faith, and how she’d pushed Maxen to confess his sins and let Jesus into his heart, and how he finally had.
She tells her mother what he said about the priest. And the demon. And the exorcism.
And when it’s done she lets the words hang, because none of it… none of it sounds plausible. Demons and priests and exorcisms. It’s a horror movie, not real life, but Celia doesn’t say any of this to her mother. She doesn’t tell her mother that she thinks it’s true, or that she knows it’s true, or that demons are the least of their problems, or that the same demon that had gotten to Maxen had taken her, too, had sunk his claws so deeply into her that she thinks she’ll never be free again.
She keeps that part to herself.
And she doesn’t say, either, that this is why she’d left Emily to her studies.
Because Emily would never believe it.
GM: Celia’s mother slowly takes in the tale. She doesn’t interrupt, just listens, and though her eyes might be surprised they aren’t judging.
“Celia… do you think he’s changed?” she finally asks. “Do you think… that he might hurt you, us, again?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I think right now he’s changed. I think he wants to make things right. And I’m scared that if it got him once it will get him again.”
Because what else will her sire do when he realizes that Maxen is free?
Let him go?
GM: “But you think he’s better now. That he was like how… how things used to be.”
Celia: “I do.”
GM: Her mother makes another tearful sound.
“Oh, Celia, I miss my husband. I miss married life. I miss my children having a father. I miss having someone else make the hard decisions and take care of things, I don’t want to do that anymore. If he’s back, I don’t care why. I just want my man back.”
Celia: Celia had expected this. She doesn’t point out that technically her children still have a father, they’re just separated.
“I think,” she says slowly, “that this might be a wait and see situation. That if you want to get your toes wet… you’re an adult. I won’t stop you. But I don’t think jumping in is wise, given the history.”
“But he would like to speak with you and apologize for himself. And he gave me something for you. It’s in the car. Just… give me a second, I’ll go get it.”
Celia takes a moment longer than she strictly needs to retrieving the things from the car. The box of memories. The adoption paper. She looks down at the treasures in her hands and asks herself if she’s doing the right thing.
A year ago, she’d have said no. No way. There’s no way that she would have ever let her mother come near Maxen again.
A week ago she’d have killed him for showing up. She’d have pulled a knife like Emily, only unlike her (official?) sister, Celia would have finished the job.
Even last night. Celia would have gutted him. Would have told her mom no. Would have mind-fucked her so hard that she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone Maxen’s.
But that apology. The offer to fix Diana, when Celia hasn’t been able to. And maybe, if it had just been those things, Celia would have spat in his face and told him where to shove it. But the confession. The demon. It’s real. It has to be real because she’s seen it. She was inside his head. She knows there are ghosts and vampires and werewolves, why wouldn’t there be demons too? And maybe it’s not even him. Maybe it’s inside of him too, and maybe she has to pull it out of him. Maybe he’s been trapped for a hundred years with a thing inside of him and no one has even bothered to look and see because they don’t know him, they don’t care about him.
They don’t love him.
Not like she does. They’re connected, they have to be, because nothing else makes sense. Evil doesn’t get to win. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Life is cheap, sure, but maybe hers is supposed to mean something.
She’d asked him once. If he had known what her father had done to her family. And he’d told her it had made her strong. She hadn’t understood. Not then. But maybe now. Maybe this is what he meant, that she’s strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe he put her there, knowing it would be a loveless household, knowing that she would care about him anyway, so that she could save him.
Don’t you save people you love?
And that explains so much, doesn’t it.
All of them just as icy, just as frosty and aloof and awful as he is. Because whatever is inside of him spreads. And it spread to them through him, and it might have spread to her. Maybe it tried that night. Maybe when she’d been inside his mind it had tried to pull her in and keep her forever, and maybe he had known that she is the one that can handle it because…
Because she’s special?
“You’re my special little girl.”
Because she’s special.
And that’s why he’d Embraced her.
Because she’s strong. And smart. And capable. And special. And loves him despite the fact that he’s awful to everyone else, awful to her. No one else would have survived being his childe if they hadn’t grown up in that household. They fear him. She doesn’t. Not truly. She was taught to see the world through fire and nothing looks safe.
It was the perfect blend of everything she needed to become exactly who she is now.
So she’s going to find it. The source. The thing that has him.
And she’s going to kill it.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Celia: Celia makes her way back inside with the box of things her father had given her. She keeps the manilla folder to herself for now—she thinks Emily might want to be here for the big reveal—but she sits down on the couch with her mother and moves it toward her.
“Dad asked me to give you this.”
GM: Celia finds her mother massaging her leg with her eyes closed when she gets back, but when Celia does, Diana unwraps the box and pulls off the lid with a curious expression. She lets out a gasp at what she sees inside. All those trophies showing gold ballerina figures, a few of pointe shows, some with the name ‘Diana Flores’ and others ‘Diana Underwood,’ depending on the year.
Celia’s mother takes out one of the albums and opens it to a page showing a crowd of girls in black leotards and white leggings, the first row kneeling in front of the second as they smile towards the camera.
Celia: “He said he’s been collecting them for a while for you. He couldn’t give you the originals, but he tracked down people at your old studio, and your friends, and he was able to convince them to share with him. Because he said he was awful to you, that he stole what you loved most in the world, and that you hadn’t deserved it.”
“And he thought maybe it would help at least a little bit.”
“He also said…”
“He said there’s a medical center in Texas. And he spoke to them about you, and… and that your condition is going to get worse. But they have a new, experimental treatment available.”
“And he said that you might be able to dance again.”
GM: Celia’s mother starts crying again as she pulls her daughter into another hug.
“Oh, Celia… I don’t even know what, what to say…”
“This is like a dream…”
Celia: It is. It’s like the sweet dream after waking up from a terrible nightmare. Or the sweet dream before a terrible nightmare. Or something. She’s wary. She’s cautious. But she’s happy. For herself, for her mother.
“I know a little about the treatment,” Celia says quietly, voice choked with emotion, “I told you last month about my colleague, how he might be able to do something similar. I thought he could show me, that I could do it, but… he was called away, and I don’t know if or when he’ll be back, and I wanted… I wanted it to be me who helped, but I don’t have that medical training, and if he can make it happen…”
“If he can make it happen then you should do it, Mom.”
GM: “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay…” her mom murmurs, running a hand along her back. “You are making it happen, here… you’re such a blessing to have in my life, I don’t even know how many times I’ve thanked God for you in my prayers…”
Celia: She’s glad to hear that. That at least her mother loves her, even though she lies about… everything.
For long moments she’s content to stay in her mom’s arms, not speaking, just feeling. Letting the woman’s love wash over her. Letting it soak into her. Because so what if she doesn’t have a dad, right? Her mom loves her enough for two people.
“There’s one more thing,” she says finally, pulling away, “but it involves Emily.”
GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and murmurs how much she loves her, equally content to let the seconds pass by and by. If there are moments that feel as if they last forever, there are worse ones that could.
“All right, sweetie, do you want to go get her now?”
“Or, actually, maybe I should, Victor and Shadow are in her room… we keep them there, usually, when you come over.”
Celia: Stupid cats.
GM: Smart cats.
She doesn’t fool them.
Celia: “Probably, then. I think… it’s going to be hard to explain Dad to her. She didn’t know him before.”
GM: “I don’t know why those kitties never liked you,” Diana remarks, shaking her head. “I think you’re right, though… I don’t think she’s going to take this well…”
Celia: “I don’t want to alienate her. She’s family. And I don’t want to make it sound like she doesn’t understand, or that she’s not part of this. Because she is.”
“And if I were her I’d see it the same way she probably does. Like we’re crazy.”
GM: “Oh, absolutely, I don’t want to alienate her either!” Diana nods resolutely. “I feel like God placed her in our lives, Celia, right when Isabel… left. You can’t replace one daughter with another, but… she was just the thing in our lives, when we needed her most. I don’t know how I’d have raised Lucy without her.”
“I want her to be okay with this. But I think you’re right she’ll probably think we’re crazier than soup sandwiches…”
Celia: Celia effects a sigh.
“I don’t want him to tear the family apart again.”
GM: “What do you think we can do, sweetie?”
Celia: “I’m thinking. I don’t want to lie to her. And I don’t think she’d believe us about, you know, the thing inside of him. Even though she does play all those Shadow games with Robby, it’s just a game, you know? Saying that maybe Dad really did have a demon inside of him… who would believe that? And maybe it wasn’t a real demon, but…”
Celia trails off.
“Mom, what about… the school?”
“What if we told her about that? And just make it sound like Dad… did it in reverse? Had it undone?”
GM: Celia’s mother falls silent.
Celia: “That’s your secret. I won’t talk about it if you don’t want me to.”
GM: She gives a slow nod.
Celia: “Okay. I’m sorry I brought it up again. It was a dumb idea anyway.”
GM: “Would you like some cake, sweetie? Us and Emily?” her mom asks.
Celia: “No, thank you. I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.”
GM: “Oh. Okay.”
Celia: “But I’ll take some to go, if that’s okay.”
GM: “Oh, yes, more than!” Celia’s mom smiles. "I’ll pack something up after we’ve talked to Emily. But I still really don’t know what we’re going to say to her. "
Celia: “I think Emily is going to bring up some valid points about taking things slow with him if she comes around at all. And I agree with that. And maybe we all get together for a family dinner sometime this week. Let her meet him. I mean, meet him again.”
GM: “That might be something,” her mother nods. “There’s no better way to calm the waters than breaking bread together, I’ve always thought.”
Celia: “He never liked being challenged, you know. I remember that. Didn’t like repeating himself. Maybe we just let Emily do her worst, and if he makes it through that it tells us what we need to know, too.”
“And if it is all fake, it’ll come out sooner rather than later.”
GM: “That’s an idea! Maybe frame it like that, us needing her help.”
GM: “You’re so smart, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “You’re my little smarty pants. But okay, I’ll go get her.”
Celia: Celia smiles at her mom, watching her walk away.
Times like these she’d love to just tell the whole truth.
GM: There are licks who do it. There are ones who get caught. But they always seem like such stupidly sentimental licks, unsuited for this life, not like Jade is.
What if there are smarter ones who tell and get away with it?
Celia: It’s not worth her mother’s life. Not worth Emily’s life.
All it takes is one wrong word and they’d both be dead.
And her, too.
For real dead.
Not animated body dead.
Unless she bloods them…
Emily would be a terrible ghoul.
GM: They’ll die eventually, if she doesn’t.
There won’t be anyone else who loves her like they do. You can find other lovers, but you only get one mom.
Celia: Emily got a second mom.
GM: Only because her first one was crap.
New sisters don’t happen on a lark either.
Celia: Not worth it, though. McGehee is in different territory. She’d have to explain that. Plus Riverbend for Emily at med school, and she’s already trying to juggle Dani’s situation.
GM: Maybe she’ll feel differently some night, after Diana is old and gray and retired.
Celia: Maybe the best thing she can do for them is let them live their lives.
GM: It’s not overlong before Diana comes back. Emily’s dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She smiles as she hugs Celia.
“Hey. How bad did it go?”
Celia: “Hey, Emmy.” Celia rises to her feet to hug her adopted sister. “It, uh, it went pretty well actually. I was kind of surprised.”
GM: “So ‘well’ means ‘you pulverized him into goo with a glance and he’ll never bother us again?’”
Celia: “I wish I could pulverize people into goo with a glance.”
“Is that a World of Shadow power? ’Cause listen, I want to play that guy.”
GM: “Sort of? It’s one of the things you can do with wizard characters, if you take the right abilities.”
“There’s a lot about that game I really like, but it’s not Black Dog’s most popular one.”
Celia: “You’ll have to show me sometime.”
“But, uh, but dinner… dinner went well, though. Maxen was… nice. We talked about a lot of what happened. And he apologized, which kind of blew my mind.”
GM: “Eh. I could see it, actually. Abusers can turn on the charm and do a sympathetic act.”
Celia: “Actually… It’s funny you bring that up.”
“I was going to save this for the end, but since you’ve provided the opening…”
GM: “Apologies are worth shit, anyway.”
Celia: “That’s what he said too, actually.”
GM: “Sounds like he’s a good actor.”
“I hadn’t thought he had that in him, after he called me a mongrel to my face. And said in the good old days, ‘human abortions’ like me were sterilized.”
Celia: “Then you know what to look for when he comes to dinner.”
GM: Emily looks between her and Diana.
“Maybe we should sit down,” their mom suggests.
“I’m fine standing, thanks,” Emily answers. “Since I’m presuming there’s not a lot to talk about, beyond ‘cut that piece of shit out of our lives, again.’”
Celia: Celia sits. This is going to be a long conversation.
GM: Emily sighs, then follows her to the couch.
Diana sits down on Emily’s other side.
Celia: “I’m honestly not really sure where to begin. I would just like for you to listen, though, and hold your skepticism ’til the end.”
GM: “Okay. But I’ll say this first.”
“We don’t owe him dinner. We don’t owe him a chance. We don’t owe him jack shit.”
Celia: “We don’t. We don’t owe him anything. I made that very clear to him at dinner tonight.”
GM: “I talked with Payton, by the way, and scheduled some time with Viv.”
Celia: “With Viv for what?”
GM: “Uh, legal advice, because I did something illegal.”
Celia: Celia makes a stabbing motion with her hand.
GM: “Yeah. Or might not have. Stand your ground laws and the restraining order. But that’s why I’m talking to the professional.”
Celia: “Makes sense.”
Which reminds her… “Did you tell her about tomorrow yet, Mom?”
GM: Diana nods. “I did, sweetie.”
“Yeah. Dinner with Stephen’s family. Sounds good,” says Emily. “I know how much he did for you.”
“Which having dinner with Maxen kind of spits in the face of, but I digress.”
Celia: “Oh, good. Before we talk about Maxen, I wanted to talk about Lucy. And let you know that—”
GM: “Yeah. You also told me all about that dinner Stephen had with him, that was so shitty and horrendous it opened his eyes and made him do all the things he did.”
“But, I digress. What about Lucy?”
Celia: “Just… just a sensitive topic, considering the timing could have made her Stephen’s.”
GM: “Well, we know she’s not. I distinctly remember watching Mom pop her out.”
Diana makes a mildly chiding throat-clearing sound.
“The timing, though… you’re right,” she frowns. “We can’t tell them Mom popped her out, obviously.”
Celia: “I was just going to talk to him about it privately before he came in.”
GM: “I’d just tell them the father isn’t Stephen and leave it at that.”
GM: “It isn’t their business beyond that.”
Celia: “Making sure we’re all on the same page.”
“But anyway, Maxen.”
GM: “I think we are,” Diana nods. “Just say she’s yours and not also Stephen’s. That’s nice and simple.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t need to rehash her entire history with Maxen to Emily. Between she and Diana, the girl already has a pretty good idea what he was like, and she’s seen firsthand the results of his abuse. Years ago she and Emily had spoken about what he was like before that fateful birthday party, so she knows that the entire history is… messy.
She doesn’t tell Emily about the demon, or about the school. Those aren’t things she thinks that Emily will understand, and how can she explain them anyway? But she does run down what happened at dinner. She describes his exorcism as “soul-searching” and “atoning for his sins” and “realizing his mistakes.” How he didn’t want to waltz in with apologies and nothing else. How he’s been searching for a way to make it up to them.
And how he’s started to, beginning with the box of memories. She lets Diana show it to her.
GM: Emily is true to her word and holds her tongue. But her face is flat as a pancake all throughout.
Diana wrings her hands at Emily’s expression, but all-too happily picks up the box and removes one of the earliest trophies, with the pointe shoes in pink as if for young girls. “So for this one I wasn’t even dancing professionally, yet, since I was only 13. I got it…”
“Give them back,” says Emily.
“This is what narcissists and abusers do, Mom. They give gifts. And yes, conventional wisdom goes that it’s as a means of control and getting close to victims, so they can hold ‘I gave you this’ over their heads.”
“But there was an interesting paper I read a little while ago that said gifts from narcissists are actually gifts to themselves.”
“Because gifts cause cause feelings of gratitude and admiration, which are what the narcissist craves. Gifts are how they purchase affection and control. They don’t actually care if the gift makes someone happy.”
“I think he does want me to be happy, sweetie,” Diana says quietly.
“I don’t,” says Emily. “I think it’s just an act, and a way to draw you back into his life.”
“And it’s working. He gave you gifts, now you want to invite him over for dinner.”
“So give them back.”
“Let me show you some of these old photos, sweetie,” Diana says, reaching into the box. “You never got to see me dance, like the others-”
“I don’t want to see them,” Emily replies flatly.
Diana looks hurt.
“You told me about those days, Mom,” Emily amends. “That’s enough.”
“You were a beautiful ballerina. I know that. I’m happy you had that. I’m mad that he took it away.”
Diana glances at Celia.
“These are just things, Mom,” says Emily. “Objects. Bits of plastic and whatever they make trophies from.”
Celia: “That’s why we need your help,” Celia finally cuts in.
“Mom and I are too close to it. I think I’m pretty good at reading people, but it’s entirely possible that he was lying to my face and had ulterior motives. Mom wants to have dinner with him. Obviously I’m not letting her go alone. And I thought if anyone could see through his act, it’s you.”
GM: “Okay. So if I say it smells like bullshit, that’s it? You’ll return the gifts and cut him out?”
Celia: “Well. He did give me something I can’t return.”
Celia finally hands over the folder.
GM: Emily opens it up.
“This has to be illegal.”
“Oh, you’re my daughter, sweetie! It even says so, right here!” Diana exclaims, overjoyed as she pulls Emily into a hug. “Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you happy, too!”
“I don’t want his gifts,” says Emily. She returns the hug, though with rather less vigor.
“I’m already your daughter. A piece of paper doesn’t change that.”
Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much.
“One dinner. If you smell bullshit I’ll walk.”
GM: “That’s all he’s giving, Mom. It’s just… confetti. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing of substance, nothing we need.”
“So he can have this back. I’m not taking it.”
“In fact, I’ll talk with Viv about this, too. He didn’t even get my signature.”
Celia: “That’s probably a good idea. Find out sooner rather than later.”
GM: “Sweetie… if there were ever a hospital emergency, or if one us were to die without a will…” starts Diana.
“We have wills,” says Emily. “And yeah. It’d suck, if something came up, and the fact I wasn’t legally your daughter shut me out.”
“But I’d rather not be legally recognized as your daughter than let this piece of scum back into our lives so he can hurt you again. Hurt us again.”
Celia: “So it’s settled. You look into it. And if he doesn’t pass your bullshit detection test then we’re done.”
GM: She looks at Celia. “Couple things.”
“First, I expected this from Mom. Did not expect it from you.”
Celia: “Mm. Never mind that I just had dinner with him to make sure he wasn’t going to report you. And am playing peacemaker until his arm is fully healed.”
GM: Emily sighs. “Yes. I fucked up there. I know. Mea culpa. I’ll talk to Viv and see what our options are, because I am not relying on his goodwill.”
“Second, dinner is playing into his hands. He’s going to be on his best behavior. Because he knows that’s how he’ll ‘win’ and get close to you again, and hell, maybe he’ll try to look so nice and sweet that I’ll look like the crazy and unreasonable one for being cold and rude, probably helped by how I have a vagina and he doesn’t. Hell, maybe that’s how he hopes to drive a wedge between us. It’s all just fucking mind games with narcissists. You can’t win against them. You can’t out-mind game them. All you can do is refuse to play.”
“Third. Why take the chance?”
“Okay. Let’s say there’s a possibility he’s somehow turned around. It’s incredibly remote, and like something out of fucking Disney, but I’ll grant it’s at least theoretically possible.”
“But from your perspectives, it should also be possible that he’s not. That this all just an act, exactly what I described, and a way to get close to us again.”
“Why. Take. That. Chance?”
“There are other men. If you want a man, Mom, we’ll help you find one. There are more men in the world than Maxen Fucking Flores!”
Celia: “Mom, can you give us a sec?”
GM: “I should know that, I’m currently fucking a pretty good one.”
Their mother clears her throat. “Ah, of course, sweetie. Just give a holler!”
“Or just knock on my door, I’d rather we not yell with Lucy asleep. Or yell anyways.”
“Okay, we’ll do that,” says Emily.
Diana gets up and leaves.
Emily looks back at Celia.
“Seriously. I expected this from her. But not you.”
“Why the fuck do you want to take this chance?”
“If the dice come up short, Mom could lose her leg or get raped or killed or who the fuck knows what.”
Celia: “Because he dangled something in front of me I can’t look away from. And because I think you’ll agree with me.”
“And because if and when this does turn to shit I’m going to be in the position to ruin him.”
“None of which I’m going to say in front of Mom.”
GM: “So what did he dangle that’s worth gambling Mom’s life?”
Celia: “Her leg.”
GM: “Her leg?”
Celia: “There’s a procedure that can fix it. He has access.”
GM: “There isn’t a procedure. She got shit care when she needed quality care, and it fucked up her leg permanently. All we can do now is treat symptoms.”
Celia: “Those toes grew back by magic, did they?”
GM: “No, by science. Toe reattachments are possible. They can go wrong, but they can go right. We lucked out that hers went right.”
Celia: “Luck had nothing to do with it. What do you remember about that night, Emily?”
GM: Emily frowns. “What does that matter?”
“What if Maxen is lying? What procedure is this? Dd he actually show any proof?”
“Because while neither of us may be actual doctors, I’m a lot closer to being one than he is.”
“Not that you need to be a doctor to sell someone a load of bullshit.”
Celia: “Maxen didn’t need to show me proof. I’ve heard of the procedure he mentioned. I brought it up to you a while ago and you said it wasn’t possible so I didn’t push. But it is. And if he can get it for her and I just have to swallow shit for a year then that’s what I’ll do for her.”
“And, again, perfectly placed to ruin his career. He’s not the only one capable of lying.”
GM: “Okay. Let’s assume this procedure is possible,” says Emily. “Couple things.”
“First, Mom is past 40. Her best friend just retired from ballet.”
“Her ballerina days are over. Have been for years. She can still dance. She dances at her classes. She just can’t do it on stage, at a professional level.”
“But could she do that anyway, with her leg back? There’s probably another principal dancer at her old production company now, someone who’s also been working years to get there.”
Celia: “She won’t be in pain anymore, Em.”
GM: “More pain than Maxen might put her through? There are meds she can take for her pain.”
Celia: “I’m not saying for her to date him again. I’m not saying that she’s going to live with him. I’m not saying they’ll be a family.”
“Those meds don’t treat the problem. You don’t slap a bandaid on a bullet hole.”
GM: “Sometimes there is no cure, just treatment. And sometimes a cure can be worse than the disease.”
“If he fixes her leg, Mom is going to fall head over heels for him. What if she does something stupid, like say he’s Lucy’s father?”
Celia: “Then I’ll kill him.”
GM: “…okaaay, leaving out the ‘how,’ that’s another cure worse than the disease.”
Celia: “Emily, I’m the last person that wants to believe he’s suddenly a good person. But if he can fix her leg? If she can stop taking pain medication and grimacing? I’ll swallow my hatred for that. And I’ll make sure that he doesn’t hurt her.”
GM: “How? Let’s say the procedure is real, and that he’s not changed. Mom falls for him, and he hurts her, again. Then what?”
“Because unless you live with them 24/7, you can’t guarantee that. He will have an infinity of chances to hurt her.”
Celia: “Then I’ll get her out. Like I did last time. And I was a kid then. I didn’t have you. I’m better prepared. And she’s not moving in with him. No. Ever. Never. She’s not going back to Audubon.”
GM: “What if he hurts her and she doesn’t want to leave?”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say that she’ll kill him again.
But she will.
GM: “What if she blabs about Lucy? What if both? What if she wants to move in?”
Celia: “She won’t blab about Lucy. She doesn’t get to.”
GM: “What if she does? Can you guarantee she won’t?”
Celia: “Then I’ll fight that custody battle. And Maxen will be known as the guy who raped both his teenage daughters.”
GM: “All she has to do is come out that you aren’t Lucy’s mom, and there is no custody battle.”
Celia: “You think I can’t fake a paternity test?”
GM: “Uh, why would you have anything to do with it? He’d do his own test. Mail in the sample to a genetics lab. And if it comes to a court dispute, guess who wins?”
“He’s a fucking rich white male politician, they always win there.”
Celia: “You think she’s not just going to sneak off to see him if you put your foot down? Like a rebellious teenager? We control it this way.”
GM: “What, we’ll just tell Mom she can’t see Maxen? We’ll keep her under guard, restrict her phone use, so she can’t ever talk to him?”
“If he fixes her leg, you think she’ll be able to stay away? Gifts are how narcissists establish control, and if she accepts a gift that big, he will have control. She’s gaga enough for him already.”
“She’s an adult. We can’t physically stop her from seeing another adult if she wants to.”
Celia: “And she’s going to do it with or without our approval. We can at least be there with her to show her if it’s wrong.”
GM: “Or we can try to nuke this entire thing, right now.”
“Before it gets any worse. Any more out of our control.”
“Give back the trophies. Give back the birth certificate. Call off dinner.”
“Fucking hell. Lie about Maxen hitting you when you return them, fake some bruises, if you think there’s no other way.”
Celia: “I get it. I do. Trust me, I understand. I lived through it. I’m asking for one dinner. And then, if you don’t like it, we walk.”
GM: Emily sighs.
Celia: Celia reaches for her.
“I’m not going to let anything bad happen. I love her.”
GM: “Lucy won’t be there.”
Celia: “Of course not.”
GM: “Be a good moment to give back the birth certificate.”
Celia: “I’m looking forward to seeing you riling him up.”
GM: “I’ll say something else, too. Mom has bounced back from some horrendous shit, and for all I give her about being a doormat, you were right when you said she’s come out from hell, twice, as a source of light and love and life, rather than someone mean and broken and bitter. If she goes through hell a third time, I don’t know if she’ll come out the same. Or come out at all.”
“And Lucy. Mom and us have raised her right. She’s happy. She’s safe. But it would be so fucking easy for Maxen to ruin that.”
“I believe you are strong and capable, but these ’I’ll just ruin him’ and ’I’ll just kill him’ ideas sound like something out of a fiction novel. I see ten thousand ways they could go wrong and fuck up our lives. Ultimately, you can’t predict or account for everything, and there are no guarantees. You are playing with fire inviting Maxen back into our lives, because however you slice it it, this is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong.”
“I’ll risk one dinner, to get you on my side. Not because I think this is a good idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. But because I don’t know how I’m going to keep Mom away from Maxen if you’re not also on my side.”
Celia: “I suppose I was a little dramatic,” Celia allows. “And you’re right. And when he shows his true colors in front of Mom, where we can see it happen, where we can stop it from escalating, I won’t even be mad when you say ‘I told you so.’”
GM: “I’m more scared if he doesn’t show his colors, Celia, than if he tries to hit her.”
“I’m more scared if he just hides them deep and Mom doesn’t believe me.”
Celia: “This is where I twirl my mustache and say ‘I have ways of making them talk’ in a bad Russian accent.”
GM: “Like I said. You can’t out-mind game a narcissist. All you can do is refuse to play.”
Celia: Sure you can. Especially when you’re a vampire.
GM: Emily sighs. “Let’s get Mom.”
They make their way down the hall. Emily and knocks and then opens the door anyway. The bedroom has floral-patterned white and pink wallpaper with a large bed heaped high with pillows and colorful quilts. There’s pictures of all the Flores children at various ages, Emily included, and two paintings of dancing ballerinas, and a pink ‘tutu lamp’ on the bedside table that Diana thought was the cutest thing. She’s on the bed, cradling her leg and making low noises with a pained expression.
“Damn it, Mom, you need to take your meds,” Emily sighs as she sits down and starts massaging the leg.
Celia: “Or stop overdoing it.”
“Maybe you give the extra lessons a rest for a while.”
GM: “The… sorry, sweetie?” she asks with a wince. Emily shifts her hands.
Celia: “The extra lessons. With the Devillers.”
GM: “Oh. Well I think they could use me, their youngest is just so scared of strangers, and it’s a crime for her not to dance…”
“That’s their problem, not ours,” says Emily.
Celia: “It’s not worth your leg.”
“And I spoke to your friend last night, actually.”
GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie! I’m glad you did! I’ve wanted you to meet a few times, but just haven’t been able to make the schedules work out.”
Because Celia is a vampire.
Celia: “Bit of an accident, didn’t even realize who I was calling. Naomi and Mom are close on the phone list. But we got to talking. And I remember you saying she was looking for a job. So… I mean, two birds, really.”
GM: “Well, she needs to get a job at a dance studio. The Devillers don’t pay enough to make a living off of. It’s side money.”
Celia: “Which will help while she looks.”
GM: “Oh, I have an interview lined up for her, though. It’s pretty soon. And she’s staying on at the company, for a little longer.”
Celia: “Mom. This allows you to bow out gracefully. Your health is worth more to me than their daughter dancing.”
GM: “I think more meds will be a better treatment than less lessons, though,” says Emily. “Even if they can be combined.”
Diana shakes her head. “I can’t take those, they make me say crazy things.”
“They don’t make you, Mom.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I think they do.”
Celia: “I mean, when you said the crazy things, you’d just left their house. Maybe it’s stress of all that extra? The whole evening was kind of… crazy.”
“And if it’s just side money anyway you don’t need it. You have a comfortable salary.”
“Even if you did, your health is, again, more important.”
“I knew a massage therapist who messed up her hands forever trying to keep up with too much work. Younger than you and she had tendinitis and carpal tunnel in both arms. Can’t even hold a phone properly now.”
“Take a break from that. When you stop feeling the constant pain you can try again.”
GM: “…all right, sweetie. Maybe until the pain gets better,” Diana relents. “That poor friend of yours…”
“The pain won’t get better if you don’t take your meds,” says Emily as she works.
Celia: Celia squeezes her mom’s hand.
“It’s not forever. Just have to take care of you first. Then you take care of everyone else. Like on an airplane with the oxygen masks.”
“And Emily is right, Mom. Take your meds.”
GM: “They make me say crazy things,” she repeats.
Celia: “Maybe we can get a different prescription? Try something new.”
GM: “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
Celia: “That’s what you’ve got us for.”
GM: Her mother smiles. “Would you mind giving me the rest of this massage, sweetie? You’re both amazingly talented, but I can get them on-call from Emily, since she lives here and all. They’re rarer from you!”
Celia: “Of course not, Mom. Happy to help.”
Celia switches places with Emily.
GM: Their mother sighs with relief as Celia eases into her familiar routine. She asks if Emily would mind packing Celia some cake “and other food, too!” since she’d rather not get back up. Emily answers it’s a sure thing and leaves to do so. Diana sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughters take care of things.
It’s as Celia said.
That’s what she’s got them for.
Even if she won’t always let them.