Midnight

Thursday night, 1 January 2009, AM

Celia: After the incident in the bathroom, Celia cleans herself up. She doesn’t know what to do for the fact that Paul came in her ass, but she uses a few baby wipes to get the worst of it and mop up the blood. She washes her face, brushes her teeth, and after a few minutes of care it looks like she’d never been fucked at all. Her smile is a little more dim than normal, and she winces when she moves the wrong way… but she doesn’t think anyone will be able to tell. She throws out her panties, pulls her tights back on, and smooths her dress back down.

Another hour. She can make it another hour. Then she’ll say she’s tired, beg off, and go to bed. Daddy can’t be mad at her for that. He can’t.

She holds onto the rail as she moves down the stairs to rejoin the party. The music swells, reaching toward her to guide her back into the crowd. She feels a pair of eyes on her, and she looks out across the revelers to see Paul looking her way. As always, he smiles blandly. No one looking at him would know that he had just pounded her in the ass while she screamed and cried and begged him to stop, or that he makes her tell him that she’s his whore.

She looks away… and catches sight of someone else, someone that takes her breath away, someone that makes her want to run back up the stairs and pull the blankets over her head, someone that sucks all the warmth from the room. She falters, almost misses the next step, and only her iron grip on the railing keeps her from tumbling down the stairs.

Celia knows him. She knows him because he’s the monster that came out from under the bed the day she turned eight. Knows him because he was in her room the night her daddy tried to take off Mom’s leg. Knows him because she has fantasized about him carrying her upstairs, putting her in bed, and kissing her goodnight—protecting her from the rest of the world, saving her from the monsters—for years.

She stares.

He isn’t talking to anyone. He stands off to one side of the crowd, somehow part of it but separate, and he must feel the weight of her gaze because suddenly he’s looking right at her. She hadn’t seen his head move, hadn’t seen him search for her. One moment he’s not looking at her, the next he has her locked into place with a steely gaze that makes her heart hammer in her chest and her diaphragm spasm uncontrollably.

She can’t move.

She can’t take another step, can’t even think straight, not until he lets her go. Not until he’s no longer looking at her. Then the spell is over and she can breathe again, she can think, she can move, and she takes her time down the rest of the stairs because she’s afraid that if she does it any quicker she’s going to tumble down and break her neck.

Who is he?

She doesn’t know. She’d never learned his name. Doesn’t know what he is, who he is, why he’s here. One of Daddy’s backers? He has to be.

She is uncomfortably aware of the corner where he stood, and she avoids it for the next fifty minutes. His very presence calls to her, tells her to come and play, but some deep, primal part of her knows that he is her destruction. She keeps herself busy, mingling with her father’s guests, playing hostess, drinking bubbly cranberry juice and, with her father’s permission, one flute of champagne that goes right to her head and flushes her cheeks. People are funnier on one glass of champagne. She laughs a little more at their jokes. Her steps hurt a little less. She doesn’t even mind when she finds herself next to Paul, telling someone what he does at the bank, or when he reaches out to pinch her rear when she passes him.

It makes her stop, turn on her heel, and fix him with a smile that is so genuine it hurts.

“Mr. Simmons, I didn’t get a chance to talk to you earlier on account of you bein’ with my Daddy an’ all, an’ I just wanted to say thank you so much for the lessons. I’m really learnin’ a lot under your guidance, an’ I look forward to blossomin’, as it were.”

She finds her daddy when the countdown to midnight starts, smiling from his side while the guests join in.

10.

She hasn’t seen the monster.

9.

She’s glad.

8.

Really, she’s glad.

7.

She doesn’t want to see him.

6.

He’d made her daddy cry, she remembers that.

5.

Remembers the way he’d tucked her in, too.

4.

Took the gun from her.

3.

Told her she’s a special little girl.

2.

Carried her.

1.

In his arms.

“Happy New Year!” the chorus goes up all around her, people laughing and toasting and kissing. Celia lifts her glass with the rest of them, happy to be overlooked, to be forgotten. She can beg off now, can turn in for the night. She turns to do just that, to find her dad and tell him she’s tired—

And runs right into the monster from her dreams.

He’s cold, this close. It drifts off of him in waves, makes her teeth chatter. He’s not that much taller than her, not as tall as Stephen or her daddy, but he’s somehow… larger. Like he commands the whole world with a look or word. She’s helpless before him, a doe to his lion, and she cannot tear her gaze from his once he locks onto her. Something moves in his eyes, something that makes her want to run, but she stands rooted to the spot as he steps closer. Around her, the party goes on. No one has noticed the two in the center of the room, or how the world has stopped spinning, or how she shivers when he reaches out—

Touching her, he’s touching her—

She thinks her heart might leap out of her chest, her breath leaves her in a sigh, and she’s in his arms, both of them around her like blocks of ice, and she knows she’ll never be warm again. Her nipples stiffen beneath the dress. She doesn’t remember moving, but she’s against him so suddenly and she knows that she came to him and not the other way around, that he is the flame and she the moth, that all he needs to do is crook a finger and she’ll come crawling, every time.

His hands are strong, his chest muscled, she can feel it when she presses against him. Tucked against him. The perfect height for her. He lifts a hand, an icy finger tracing her lips, cradling her neck, and there’s strength there, a strength she can’t even imagine. She’s small, next to him. Not in the way that she is small next to Jamal or her father, but tiny. Insignificant. He could crush her with a thought, with a flick of his fingers, and she knows it.

She is perfectly, absolutely still while he looks into her eyes.

While he looms closer.

While he presses two firm lips against hers, tilting her head back, claiming her as thoroughly as if he were to whisper the words, and she knows that she is his, has always been his, will always be his. Knows that if he were to ask she would offer herself fully, that all he needs to do is take her hand and pull her from the room and she will follow no matter what lurks in the darkness. She clings to him while he plunders her mouth with his tongue, clings to him when her knees grow weak, is still clinging to him when he finally pulls away and touches two fingers to her cheek.

Then he’s gone.

Happy New Year.

Midnight

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