“I did the right thing, right? Yeah. I can tell by how it stings.”
Tuesday night, 31 March 2009, PM
Support: It’s late when Celia finally texts Em a brief “omw” text, and half past nine when she arrives, scanning the small restaurant for Em.
Emmett: Em wakes up in the late afternoon and feels like shit. So he does a line of coke. He still feels like shit, but now time moves faster. After two or three more, he might feel like shit, but he’s too busy watching three movies at once to notice.
He barely notices it’s not peak dining hours when she texts him. Not that it matters—it’s right next to his building, and he doesn’t keep normal hours anyway. She can see him waving at her enthusiastically to a table in the back corner when she enters. His pupils are the size of a cartoon character’s.
“Ceeeelia,” he sings as she comes over. “You’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily—Madeline, can we get two hurricanes over here?”
If she was worried he thought this was a date, the sight of him in an old sweatshirt and jeans probably sets her at ease, even if absolutely nothing else about him does. He doesn’t look very much like a girl at all, now.
GM: “You got it,” the waitress calls back, jotting down the order.
Support: Celia hesitates before she sits, though whether it’s the pain she’s still in or the fact that his pupils are blown is anyone’s guess.
She sits slowly, gingerly, perched on the edge of the chair with as little of her ass touching it as she can manage. She’s wearing a loose dress with sunny print. One of her arms is in a backslab and splint.
“Em. Been a while.”
GM: Café Soulé is a modestly-priced restaurant literally next door to Em’s apartment building. It’s still a bit more expensive than making his own breakfast, but the convenience can’t be beat. The surroundings reflect the price tag. There’s round, slightly scuffed wooden tables and functional chairs, spruced up with flower vases and Belle Époque-era paintings of ballet dancers and suited gentlemen meeting at, fittingly enough, a café. French flags and cast iron lamp lights give the place an Old World ambiance. At the far side of the room, there’s a modestly well-stocked bar and chalk blackboard that spells out the day’s specials, as well as drinks for a happy hour that’s still a ways off.
Emmett: Em shrugs and makes a dismissive gesture at her statement, as if to wave away the weeks since their last meeting. Turns out, not a lot of call for makeup when you exclusively fuck women.
“Maybe it has been—too long, too long. Please, let me pay for everything—how are you, Cici?” He laughs a little bit when he says that, though she couldn’t say why. He snaps his fingers before she can answer. “Not good! You told me already. How are things not good, and how can we kiss it better?”
Support: “Are you offering?”
Her cheeks burn as soon as the words are out of her mouth.
“Are you drunk?”
Emmett: He laughs at her flustered reply. “No, not yet, though that should be changing fairly soon. I’ve put my best people on it. And I am really offering to help you, if I can, and if it doesn’t mean going to a museum. I have been thinking,” he tells her, “how much I hate museums all day. My family loves them. Favorite thing to do on a weekend. I haven’t been to one since I was sixteen. Never. Again. Like the Holocaust. Or 9/11. Both of which I learned way too much about, guess where, in museums.”
“Sorry, I’m talking a lot. I’m not drunk, yet, but I am very high.” He eyes her with those too-big eyes. “Is that a problem for you? I can leave, and give you some cash for dinner.” He doesn’t sound offended. More guilty.
Support: “It’s fine,” she tells him. “I’ve never been,” she confesses, because it’s easier to talk about than what she came here for. Her eyes slip toward the table, the menu, and she picks at the edges with one freshly manicured nail. “Maybe I should try it.”
“Have you ever been upstairs here? They say it’s haunted.”
Emmett: His eyes widen. “They do? Oh, goody, then I definitely want to go upstairs after we’re done. I’m haunted, too. Maybe I’ll make friends—Madeline, you are an angel.”
Two tall glasses of red-orange amber are set between them. Em takes a long pull off his.
“Have you ever been drunk before?”
Her sister hadn’t. He remembers that night.
GM: “And you tip well, so I guess you’re one too,” the waitress smiles. She asks if they’re ready to order or still want some time to make up their minds.
Emmett: “Hmm, could you bring us some crab cakes for now? Unless she knows what she wants.”
Support: Celia shakes her head.
“That’s good for now.” She slides the drink towards her, sipping from the provided straw. Makes a face, then nods and sips again. “Drunk? No. Uh. Sort of? Once, but not really? Sheltered life, et cetera.” She waves a hand. The other stays on her lap. “Why? Planning on doing it all tonight?”
GM: “Okay, crab cakes to start off,” Madeline jots down before taking her leave.
Emmett: “Doing what? Drinking?”
Support: “You’re already high,” she points out. “Are you supposed to mix them?”
Emmett: “I’m not supposed to do either,” the 18-year old points out. “And also, no. But I am, and I will, because that’s what I do. Things I’m not supposed to.”
He regards her across the table. “And that’s why you came to get my advice, because I know what it’s like to do the thing they don’t want you to do. Isn’t it?”
Support: “Because you have sex for money, which means you live outside of all of… this.” She gestures toward herself.
The rules. Normal society. Polite company.
“So… yes. I’m betting on the fact that you can help, or know someone who can.”
Emmett: “I have sex for free, too, but the money is a nice perk.” He drinks more of his Hurricane. “Did I tell you about the time your sister tried to get me to fuck her? I didn’t, because I felt bad for her. And because she was doing it so your daddy could get angry at her, I think. Which was a bummer. And because I was still hung up over… other people. I’ll help you,” he decides, waving a finger at her, “if you play a drinking game with me. No other charge.”
Support: “Cécilia?” she asks. “Didn’t you used to call her Cici, too?” She sips. “Fine. Deal. What’s the game?”
Emmett: He raises an eyebrow at the name. “I wondered if you knew her,” he says. “Isabel did. I did call her Cici, but only in my head. A woman like that is dangerous to give a nickname.”
“The game is simple. We ask each other questions, and the other person answers or they drink. No lying. It’s my day off. I’ll start.”
He swishes the ice in his hurricane around. “Did she ever talk about me?” There’s real sadness in those eyes, and regret.
Support: “Yes. Frequently.” She pauses. “Even after.”
“Why’d you lie to her?”
Emmett: “Different reasons, at different times. If I told you the full story, you wouldn’t believe me. But if you want the easy answer, because I was seventeen and she was somebody and I was nobody. If you want the longer answer…” He takes another pull.
“My turn. What do you want with your life?”
Support: Celia drinks. It’s a long pull, following his example. The straw is discarded.
“What’s haunting you?”
Emmett: Oh, how many answers there are to that question. It’s tempting to simply drink. But you have to give some to get some.
“I’m in love with somebody who hates me, because I ruined her life. And she’s the only person who can ever understand how fucked I am, so I know that she’s the only person who can ever really love me, too. But she can’t, because nobody who knows me can love me.”
He slides his finger along the lip of his glass, making it squeal with pleasure, or maybe pain. “What did you come here to tell me?”
Support: “Daddy is in jail. For now. I have a pretty firm suspicion that the charges aren’t going to stick. There’s only one thing that can keep a man like that down.”
Her eyes scan his face.
“Can you help?”
Emmett: Em stares at her. He doesn’t look horrified or uncertain. Just impressed.
“What are you asking me to do?” He wants her to say it.
Support: She squirms. She reaches for her glass, then stops.
Emmett: “He’s a state senator,” Em says mildly. “And he’s under guard, if he’s in jail. He in OPP?”
Support: Celia blinks. Drinks. Looks around.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what they did with him.”
GM: She picks a timely moment.
“There you guys are,” says the waitress as she sets them down. They’re two 3 oz cakes served on top of a bed of mixed greens and finished with a zesty-looking pale orange remoulade sauce. Some lemons provide a final garnish.
“Know what you want for any entrées yet, or still making up your minds?”
Support: “Monte Cristo, thank you so much.” Celia flashes her a smile, as if she’s not in the middle of talking about killing her father. “And another… hurricane. Two?” She looks to Em.
GM: “You got it,” the waitress smiles back as she jots the order down.
Emmett: “Two,” Em agrees with an equally carefree smile, as if he was actually contemplating murdering Maxen. “And can I get the shrimp and Eggplant Pierre? Thaaanks.”
After Madeline is gone, his smile softens to something more serious. “So, first things first, you should know that’s a terrible idea. Speaking as somebody on the wrong side of the law in a lot of ways. But I’m glad you came to me about it, because even though I’m coked out of my mind right now, I can still explain exactly why you won’t get what you want even if you could find somebody who could pull that off.”
He takes a bite of crab cake and closes his eyes. “Oh, fuck, that’s really good. I would actually kill for this. I should come here more often. And I come here a lot. What were we talking about? Right, why I’m not going to murder your dad. The main one is, he’s big people. And when big people die, this city goes crazy. I mean, we’re talking FBI getting involved, politicians riding police until they make an arrest, all kinds of shit. This isn’t something you would hire a guy like me for. It’s something you’d hire, like, one of the A-Team. Or somebody else who doesn’t fucking exist. And for shit’s sake, eat your crab cake. You don’t know what you’re missing.”
Support: “I wasn’t asking you to do it.”
She presses her face into her hand. Just the one. The other remains immobilized by the splint.
“He’s going to get out. He’s going to get off. He’s going to get custody back, and I’m going to end up right back where I was, bent over his fucking knee with his hands on me.”
She takes a bite of the crab cake.
“Phenomenal,” she says.
Emmett: He looks at her for a moment. Then he reaches out and touches her on the shoulder. She notices, probably not for the first time, how weak his grip is. How skinny his arms are. He can’t be stronger than her.
But his hand is there, and it is gentle. “No,” he says, and there’s nothing addled in his voice when he says it. “He won’t. I promise. I won’t let you go back to the way things were. But if you kill him, your problems will get much, much worse. Trust me.”
Celia can see it in his eyes, past the coke and booze and whatever mania tears through him.
He knows what he’s talking about.
“If you want to kill a man like Maxen, you don’t go after his body. You go after his reputation. His name.”
Support: She touches his hand, squeezing his fingers.
“How?” she finally asks. “I don’t have a way back in. He’ll know what I did.”
Emmett: “Sure he will. But you know who might be interested in what he did? The media. You talk to any press about him being arrested?”
GM: A moment passes.
Emmett: “…guess that answers that.”
Support: “No. I’ve been… busy. Judges. Restraining orders.” Celia slides her chair around the table, lowers her voice. “Miranda is doing her thing.”
Emmett: “What’s that mean, here?”
He’s kind of puzzled she’s being more secure about this than discussing her father’s murder.
Support: That second round of drinks hasn’t come yet. She reaches for his instead.
“Digging. Planning. She has…”
“Remember when you told me I couldn’t be a whore?”
Emmett: He blinks. “Um.”
Support: “You did. While you were naked. Had your…y’know.” She glances down at his lap, then back up. Wiggles her eyebrows. It’s obnoxious. “Said it would be too hard for me, but that might have been a dick joke.”
Emmett: “It wasn’t and also, I feel like you’re missing the point of my confusion. When I say ‘um’, like that, I mean, what the fuck?”
The inability of others to understand his many degrees of witticism will probably have terrible consequences.
Like, at some point.
Support: “You were wrong. That’s my point. You thought I couldn’t. But I did. Which means… I can do this.”
GM: “Sorry those took a while! Crazy evening here,” Madeline says as she arrives with more drinks. The hurricane is a local classic, with rum, lemon juice, orange juice, and fruit syrup, serve in the eponymous tall and curvy ‘hurricane glass.’
Support: “Thank you.” Another winning smile for the server, never mind the fact that her eyes are a little unfocused.
Emmett: Amidst the flurry of activity, he stares at her, but holds his tongue until Madeline again retreats to the kitchen. “How did you start whoring? And what were you saying about Miranda?”
Support: “When I asked the wrong person the wrong question and he put me onto my knees.”
Emmett: He looks confused. “Was the question, ‘will you pay me to have sex with you?’ Otherwise I’m pretty sure that’s just rape.”
“I mean, not that rape is, like, better.”
Support: “And yet he’s sitting pretty in his house, and here I am, because that’s the kind of game people like my dad play. They’re going to let him off.” She fixes him with a look. “So tell me why I shouldn’t just put him down rather than risk going back to that.”
Emmett: He leans towards her, his forehead almost touching hers and the alcohol in their breath mingling.
“I already did. But you seem to have made up your mind already. Look. Even if you ignore all the reasons it’s a bad idea to whack a state senator, what’s your plan here? What do you have Miranda doing? Does she know what you’re planning?”
Support: “No. She… no. She has something. That I told her to leak if she doesn’t hear from me.” She puts a finger on his chest. “You don’t think I can do it.”
Emmett: He looks into her eyes, his own narrowing. “I think you don’t know what killing does to person. And I think you’re desperate enough to do it anyway.”
Just like I was.
He entwines his fingers with hers, folding her accusing hand in his. It’s warm.
“Look, Celia, I am telling you as somebody who has made every mistake in the book. This won’t solve your problem. It’ll make it ten times worse. You asked for my help, let me give it to you. There’s another way.”
Support: “When I was fourteen,” she tells him, her voice no louder than a whisper, “I saw him attack my mom. He tried to kill her. And I was there. And I had a gun. And I hesitated. And… and my mom can’t… her leg…”
“Tell me. Tell me… what other way.”
Emmett: “Blackmail,” he says, instantly. “Your backup plan, with Miranda? That should be your number one. You tell her to set up drops so that if anything happens to you, if you don’t stop it every week from now until he drops dead, everything gets sent to the media. What you gave her, is it enough to burn him?”
GM: The food arrives. The monte cristo is a decadent fried confection: beyond the usual ham, mayo, gooey melted cheese, and egg- and butter-lathered fried bread, it’s been topped with delicate white powdered sugar. French fries together with a dark dipping sauce provide the side.
The shrimp and eggplant Pierre is the signature dish at Café Soulé. The eggplant is sliced, covered in breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. The eggplant stack is surprisingly crispy and not soggy at all, even though it is covered in decadent, sinfully buttery heavy cream sauce flavored with shrimp. To top it all off, even more grilled shrimp are scattered over the stack of eggplant and to the plate’s edges.
Madeline gives them more smiling pleasantries like they aren’t talking about killing Celia’s father and takes her leave.
Support: “I… maybe?”
She can’t finish her thought before they’re interrupted. She doesn’t move, though. She nods, smiles, says thanks, and looks right back to Em.
“It’s what he… what he did last night. I don’t know if it’s enough.”
Emmett: “Get some food in you, it’ll help,” he tells her. “And… do you want to tell me what it is?”
Support: “He stripped me. At the dinner table. He hit me until I bled, and then he kept going, and he made them all watch. And when it was over he promised he’d do it again tomorrow, too.”
Emmett: He nods, simply. “That’s fucked up. I can understand why you wouldn’t want other people to see it, too, unless they absolutely had to.” He hesitates. “Whether it’s enough to end his career… it’ll absolutely hurt him, make him a liability. But you’re right, it’d be nice to have something else to hold over him.”
He takes a bite of butter-drenched shrimp. “Fuck. Try this. Come on, Cici, it’ll make you feel better.”
Some part of him wonders what he’s doing. What his angle is.
But most of him just thinks the food is really good and he should do some more coke soon.
Support: She just looks at him.
Then she shoves back in her chair, actually sitting for the first time since she arrived, and reaches for her new glass instead of the food.
“You’re right.” She doesn’t specify. Just drinks. “Thanks for listenin’. Who’s the girl?”
Emmett: Em frowns. “Come on, don’t be like that. It’s just a matter of getting something over your dad he can’t bear to see go public. Like…” He hesitates. “Did he beat your mom?”
He doesn’t seem eager to answer her other question. He drinks.
Support: “Did you miss the part where I said I walked in on him tryin’ to kill her?” She picks at her fries, but none of them make it to her mouth.
Emmett: “I might have, this whole conversation is kind of batshit. So… being prosecuted for attempted murder, if you’re trying to do that, actually really fucks up a politician’s image. I mean, even if he eventually beat the charges, that’s like a gatling gun for his opponents. But if Maxen was given the option to avoid that…” He leaves it hanging.
Support: “He gets out and he kills me. I’m just one more thing to add to your list of hauntings, Em.”
“Mom already reported it. Last night. Cat’s outta the bag.”
Emmett: Em stares her dead in the eyes and says, “Well, if that happens, then I suppose I’ll just have to go against my own advice and cross him myself. Not like my own life is all that hot, anyways. But look. You still have leverage over him. Don’t let him bully you. Don’t let him make you feel small. You aren’t.” He takes another bite of shrimp and eggplant. “Did you drive here?”
Support: She drinks, hiding her amused smile, and eyes him over the rim of her glass.
“No. Cab. Good thing, too.” She sets the glass back down and eyes him. “They don’t card you here?”
Emmett: “Not me,” he says simply. “Don’t worry about it.”
He doesn’t sound like he’s joking. He sounds… resigned to it. Like it wasn’t what he was planning to do with the rest of his life but it seems like as good a way to spend it as any.
Em looks at her. “Okay, let’s play the game again. What do you think of me, right now?”
Support: “I think you think I’m stupid. I think you talk a lot. I think you’re frustrating and you don’t tell the truth and you hide behind booze. I think I’m glad you didn’t fuck my sister. I think I’m glad I called you even though it isn’t really what I wanted to hear. I think,” she says slowly, “that I want to trust you, even if I shouldn’t, and that… I don’t like that. I don’t like that at all.”
She shakes her head, and blinks glazed eyes at him. “I think you’re dramatic, too. But you’re cute, so I guess it’s okay. Wait, why, what do you think of me?” She asks as if it is the most important thing in the world, as if she has forgotten the point of the game.
Maybe it’s that hurricane and a half she just slugged.
Emmett: He sits and drinks as she tells him what she thinks of him. It’s nice to hear it out loud, sometimes.
He almost laughs at her roundabout, but she’s reeling. He doesn’t want to upset her. Instead he smiles warmly enough to hide the high in his eyes, and says, “Well, I don’t think you’re stupid. Not any stupider than me, anyway, which maybe isn’t saying so much. If you knew the mistakes I’ve made…”
He shakes his head. “I think you’re too good for your family. And I think Cécilia has good judgment in friends. Most of the time.” He drinks a little more. “And I think you were kind to me when you didn’t need to be. And I think it bothers me that you might get hurt, too. And you aren’t stupid. You’re right. I am dramatic. It helps.” He leans forward. “And I think I want to make sure you’re okay. So eat something? Please?”
Support: “…d’you really think ‘m too good for my family, or are you just sayin’ it?”
Emmett: “Have you met your family?” he says, wryly. “I have. You’re the best of ’em.” He skewers a shrimp on his fork, twirls it in the sauce until it’s dripping in butter, and holds it out to her. He doesn’t say “here comes the airplane,” but he does say, again, “Please. For me.”
Support: “You’re trouble.”
Her lips part obediently for the shrimp. She takes it off the end of the fork, dripping butter and all.
“Trouble,” she says again. “You win.” She turns to her own plate.
Emmett: “Yeah,” he agrees, “I am.”
I wonder if you realize yet you are, too.
He’s content to eat in mostly silence after that, making small, harmless talk. He tries to make her laugh, when he can. He’s good at that.
When they’re done and waiting for the check (or desert, if she wants—he recommends the nutella crepe) he asks, “Did you want to go upstairs? See if it’s really haunted?”
He’s come down a bit, now. He can tell by his mood.
Support: “Are we allowed?” Her head tilts to one side, eyes on him. She looks like she’s still reeling, but managed to finish that second glass. Then her palm finds her chin, and she smiles in a bemused sort of way.
“I suppose that wouldn’t stop you.”
Emmett: “Probably not,” he grins. When Madeline comes by, he asks about if they can go upstairs, the provided pen lounging dizzily over the tip line. If she seems hesitant at first, he emphasizes how grateful he would be. He is, after all, a regular.
GM: “Wellll, it’s kinda not up to me, but…” She looks around, then adds in a lower voice, “Just don’t let my boss know, all right?”
Emmett: “Of course not, m’dear,” he says, as he leaves a too-generous tip. “Of course not.”
He leads Celia upstairs when he’s pretty sure nobody’s looking, used to sneaking into places drunk. He’s getting a kick out of playing chaperone.
Support: “S’used to be an orphanage,” Celia says to him once he’s dragged her up the stairs. “They say sometimes you can hear the kids’ ghosts runnin’ around.” She leans in. “D’you believe in ghosts, Em?”
Emmett: He’s quiet for a moment. “I can believe in anything.” He doesn’t drag her so much as help her glide up the stairs with her arm in his. “Lot of things in this world. When I was a boy, and visiting the other Delacroix folk in the bayou, they’d tell me ghost stories. Not that middle school guff. Real ghost stories. Maybe I’ll tell you one when things are better. What about you?”
Support: “Ghosts? Maybe. I believe in monsters. The kind that crawl out from under the bed but don’t care if you’re under the blankets, they’ll get you anyway, and everyone else you care about, and once they’re out you can’t put them back. The kind that hide in the darkness, waiting for you to make the wrong move, and plant ideas in your head.” She doesn’t let go of his arm, even at the top of the stairs.
GM: Upstairs is called the Paris Room.
It’s a ballroom with a high ceiling, street balcony, and adjacent garden terrace. A private bar, currently untended, lurks near the spiral staircase. There’s some furniture, chandeliers, and a Bell Epoque painting of Parisian dandies having a grand old time. For the moment, the two have the room to themselves.
It feels almost criminal not to dance.
Support: Celia already has his arm. It’s a simple maneuver to put his hand at her waist instead, and even if he isn’t a strong dancer she’s good enough for the both of them. Even with one of her arms in a backslab. She leads him—or rather, leads him leading her—across the floor. She hums as they move, keeping time.
GM: Em’s been up here his share of times. Private events get hosted semi-regularly. Parties. Even a few weddings. It’s easy to talk his way in and there’s free food, usually from the restaurant below.
He can’t remember seeing any ghosts. Maybe they felt like a third wheel.
People have ghosts enough of their own.
Emmett: “I—oh.” He’s smart enough to know when not to talk. He’s an all right dancer. Brother Martin’s offered lessons, anyways. It was sexier than shop class.
He lets her lead him into leading her, at first, but throws in a few flourishes so she gets to react a little, twirling her far and close without any regard they might normally have for other couples.
He wonders if the ghosts are watching.
They end facing the mural, her head against his chin, his hands clasping hers. “Dancing runs in the family, huh?”
He has to whisper into her ear. It feels wrong to talk too loudly, here.
Support: She’s breathless by the end of it, her eyes lit by joy, hair coming untucked with the simple act of twirling around the ballroom. Strands of it twirl with her, swaying with every laugh that passes by her lips. Celia comes alive, here on the dance floor, with her dress flying up around her as they dip and spin and sashay.
His whisper sends a shiver down her spine. She opens her mouth to retort. The light fades from her eyes. She shivers once more, and when she presses herself against him it feels different.
Emmett: “What?” His fingers trace little circles on the insides of her palms.
“There’s a bar,” she says, pointing. Her eyebrows lift in question.
Emmett: “There is,” he agrees. “How are you feeling? I don’t want to push you too hard. I want you to have fun, not get sick.”
Support: “Dizzy,” she admits. “My… back is bothering me.”
Emmett: “Why don’t I get us something nice from behind the bar, and then walk up to my place? It’s right next door. Or I could call you a cab.” He twirls her around so she can face him, but holds her still.
Support: “Trouble,” she says again.
“I’d like to see your place.”
Emmett: “Mi casa, su casa.” He nabs the most expensive-looking liqueur from behind the bar, then lead her back down the stairs with a protective arm around her. He wishes Madeline a good night.
His place isn’t far at all. It’s literally next door. It’s a nice place, but it doesn’t feel like a home. The furniture is pricey but looks like it was picked out of a catalogue. There’s a TV with a bunch of devices plugged in, a kitchen that doesn’t look like it gets enough use, and a lot of posters that feel more like they’re taking up space than trying to represent taste.
Em pours out two generous measures of whatever it is he’s stolen—stolen things, he tells her, taste better. He turns on the TV, too, to his Webflix queue, which is easily the most personalized part of his entire living ensemble. She should pick a movie, he says, as he retrieves a baggie of coke and starts spilling out a line.
“I have weed, too, if you’re in the mood for something else,” he volunteers. “No pressure, though.”
Support: Celia is not familiar with Webflix. She tells him so, but she scrolls through the list of movies anyway while he collects his things, sipping at the drink he’d poured for her.
“Spoken from experience?” She presses play on a movie before she can finish reading the description, and the scene opens with a girl holding a a microphone with an oversized red windscreen. She starts speaking Spanish, the subtitles come up on the screen, but Celia’s eyes drift toward what Em is doing with the lines.
“I’ve never…” she lets the words linger between them. “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” She gestures toward whatever it is he’s doing.
Emmett: “Absolutely,” He says to her first question. “Food, money, love—it’s all better when you’re not supposed to have it.”
He smiles approvingly at her other statement. “That’s wise of you. A lot of people don’t know their own limits. Does your back still hurt? Weed can help with that. A lot of people use it as medicine,” he says. “Cancer patients and people with aches.”
Support: “Do they, or are you just tryin’ to get me high?” She takes another sip of that drink. “What is this, anyway?”
Emmett: He glances at the label. “Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure,” he reads, drawling out an exaggerated French accent to do it justice. “I watered it down a little and dropped a sugar cube in. Good stuff.”
He punctuates his sentence with a snort. He feels like himself again. Except, not like himself. Which is the point. He blinks furiously for a minute, before answering her other question.
“And you know, it’s a little column a, little column b. You’re smart to be weary, but I’m not out to get you. Just to help you unwind.” He glances at the screen. “Huh, Spanish film. Could be fun. I don’t practice enough, anyways.”
He joins her on the couch a few minutes later with a joint and an ashtray. “It won’t take much, so I’ll probably have most of this, but you could get a good puff or two and it’ll be enough for a first high. You’ll cough a bit, that’s normal, so I got you some water.”
He sets the glass down next to her drink. “Just try and inhale deeply and keep the smoke in your lungs. Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at first.”
He’s very motherly about it. He lights the joint first, takes a long puff, shows her how the cherry burns inward steadily, and exhales a small cloud of smoke before offering it to her.
They’re very close. It’s not such a large sofa, but it is comfortable.
It becomes apparent pretty quickly she’s chosen a horror flick. A disease spreads among the tenants of an apartment building that makes them rabid and cannibalistic. It’s an intense film, but maybe more bearable than her reality. Still, he offers to change it, if she wants.
Or he can just hold her hand.
Support: Her gaze is intense as she watches him light the joint, inhale, and blow the smoke out a moment later. When he offers it to her she sets it between her lips and pulls. The smoke hits her throat and burns before it ever gets down into her lungs, and even though she tries to hold it in like he said she starts coughing and sputtering, passing it back to him to free up her hand for the glass of water.
The coughing fit passes. She does better her second time, managing at least to hold it in for a few seconds before her throat starts to tickle and she lets the smoke loose in something that lands firmly between a cough and a laugh.
She tells him she doesn’t feel anything. But by the time the characters in the movie have reached the attic she’s clearly enthralled, and even though she took him up on holding her hand she still jumps when the little boy appears, turning her face into the hollow between his shoulder and neck. She might have even squeaked a little.
She lingers there, with her head on his shoulder. She murmurs an apology for the choice in movie.
Emmett: He can tell she’s not sorry. “It’s okay,” he says anyway.
The movie passes, and when the credit ends he looks at her. “Was tonight fun?”
Support: “Yes.” She hasn’t moved from her spot. “Why, is it over?”
Emmett: “Only if you want it to be.” He wraps an arm around her shoulders. “I could call you a cab, or sleep on the couch if you want the bed. Or we can stay up, I suppose. I’m not doing anything tomorrow.”
Support: “You made me watch a horror movie an’ then you want me to sleep alone in a strange place?” She turns her face toward his. “That’s cruel.”
Emmett: He smiles faintly. “And yet, you don’t want to leave.”
Support: “The monsters attack girls on their own. It’s a matter of safety.” Her tone implies the unsaid obviously.
Emmett: “The same ones that hide under beds?”
Support: “And that lurk in the dark, waiting to snatch you up into their arms. So you see, if I leave and get got, it’s kind of your fault.”
Emmett: “Get got, look at you,” he chuckles. “I guess that means we should stay here, then. Where it’s safe.”
Support: “Together though. Otherwise all you’ll hear is a scream, or a thud, or a movie score, and you’ll come looking and find nothing. Then it’s all Detective Em to the rescue. Girl tied up. Battle of good versus evil, winner take all.” She glances at the bottle. “Better to stay here and finish that and maybe smoke a little more. You know,” she looks back to him, lowers her voice, “safe things.”
Emmett: Em looks at her and positively beams. It’s a nice expression on him. “You’re actually a lot of fun when you want to be, Ms. Flores.”
Support: “All this sweet talkin’, Em, but I can think of better uses for your mouth.”
She leans in. She kisses him.
Emmett: He’s surprised. She can feel it in his shoulders, and in his tongue as it curls reflexively around hers. His mouth tastes like the dinner they shared and absinthe and weed.
It’s good. For a second.
He pulls away, his arm still around her but his eyes sinking to the floor.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t. You wouldn’t like me. In the morning.”
“I don’t want to haunt you.”
Support: She freezes. Just for an instant. Long enough for him to get his excuses out, and then she’s backpedaling away from him as quickly as her body can take her. Every bit of her is flushed, face red, eyes looking anywhere but at him.
She addresses a lamp when she finally speaks. “I should go.” Her voice is tight.
Emmett: “Celia, please, don’t…”
He stops. Nothing he can say can make it better.
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
Then he says, “I was going to tell you later, but if you’re leaving… there’s somebody you should talk to for help. About your dad.”
“Somebody who can help. And she might.”
“Go to Cécilia. Tell her. Everything. And ask… ask if…” His eyes cloud, and for a moment there’s no other word to describe how he looks.
“Ask if her Maman can help you.”
He looks down again. “Best… best not to mention I sent you.”
Support: The lamp does not betray the nuances of Em’s face as he speaks. Its shade remains the same unchanging mask, and with each word Celia edges closer and closer toward the door. Her cheeks burn red.
Cécilia’s name makes her pause. Her hand is on the knob of the door. She finally looks at him in time to see his eyes on the ground. Her voice is tight.
Emmett: “Because her mother is more dangerous than your father. She’s more dangerous than anybody. And she has influence. Lots of it. She can protect you. She’ll want to, if she knows you’re her daughter’s friend. That your mother was her beloved teacher.”
He takes a breath. “Celia, everything I touch turns to shit. If you knew—”
Support: “Don’t.” She cuts him off. “I don’t want to know. I don’t—I don’t care.”
The echo of a broken sob can be heard floating through the door before it closes behind her.
Emmett: He leans back on his couch, alone.
He finishes her drink.
I did the right thing, right? Yeah. I can tell by how it stings.
He does another line of coke, forgets who he is again, and watches another movie.