“You can’t tell him. You can’t. About what… about last night."
Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009
GM: Day comes. Em and Celia are still there. The monsters haven’t gotten them.
At least not yet.
His stuffed nose is runny. His head feels all foggy. His stomach’s really growling, too.
The comedown always sucks.
It’s around 2 PM. Not that late an hour for him to be greeting the day, but Celia’s already up, dressed, and in the living room on her phone.
There’s that Nutella and butter sandwich in the fridge. Maybe a sugar high will take the edge off.
Emmett: Maybe. Maybe it will.
No. No it didn’t.
As he washes down his latest regret with a fresh one in the form of a heavy-on-the-oj screwdriver, his waking coma eases up, and he becomes aware that Celia’s in the room.
“Oh, shit. Hey. You’re up early.”
Is 2 PM early for other people, with full lives and families and shit? Must be.
He doesn’t look good at the moment. His hair’s greasy, and the shadows under his eyes are darker then the bloodshot eyes themselves. “Caught me before my makeover. Ha. Haha.”
He disappears back into his room, and emerges a minute later looking better, his eyes brightened but still reddened. He lights a hastily rolled joint and sits next to her. "Did you call Cécilia?
He can tell she has. She seems… relaxed.
Support: “You should shower,” Celia says to him. It’s not unkind, just factual. There might be some hot water left. Maybe. Her hair is still wet from her own shower earlier, but she has it pulled back from her face so it doesn’t get in the way.
“I did. She… might get me in contact with her mom. And if not…” Celia trails off. “Maybe it’s better if not. Maybe I just forgo monsters altogether.”
“I can’t tell if she knows. Boyfriend hasn’t texted. Or called. Mom is inviting us to dinner. Not not you, us, I meant my… my boyfriend.”
She looks away from him.
Emmett: He sniffs himself and acknowledges the point. “I can’t make that choice for you. About Abélia, I mean. It’s risky, but if she wants to help you, I believe Maxen isn’t going to be able to bully her. That doesn’t mean she isn’t her own kind of spooky. She never really came after me, though. And I turned out fine.”
He lets that sit for a moment, taking a long drag off the joint. He doesn’t react to her bringing up her boyfriend, but asks, “Are you nervous about that?”
Support: “About dinner? No. We’ve had dinner with her before.”
“I practiced the story on her. About the bar. I don’t know if I should tell him, though.”
“You could come to dinner,” she says after a moment. “Get some real food in you. Noticed your fridge is, uh…”
Her eyes dart towards the Hot Pocket still on her plate.
Emmett: He stiffens slightly at the invitation, and looks down at himself, considering.
“As a friend?”
Support: “As my date, obviously. My other boyfriend.” Celia rolls her eyes. “Yes, as a friend. You have time to change. If you’re not interested that’s fine too. My mom is just… she likes to feed people. And you already know my sister.”
“If Cécilia’s doesn’t get back to me I’m just… gonna go after him, I think.”
Emmett: He frowns at what she says she’s planning.
“Do you think… he’s gone after her?”
Support: It takes her a minute.
“You mean Cécilia’s mom? I don’t know. I doubt it. He doesn’t have a reason to. Said she just sits on the sidelines. Nobody important. His words.”
“Is she as scary as you said?”
Emmett: “Oh. Oh, I thought you meant your mother.” He looks relieved. “No, I’m not worried about him doing anything to her. You’ll understand when you meet her. She’s… something.”
Support: “Oh. No. I…”
“Cécilia thinks I should move them. I need to convince my mom to go to my grandmother’s house, but they’re fighting for dumb reasons.”
“I want them to move. To go anywhere else so those things don’t find them.”
Emmett: “Well, easy answer to that is to stop them fighting somehow. Convince them that this is bigger than their history. This is your future.” He makes a rolling gesture with one wrist. “That kind of thing.”
Support: “Ha, my future. Their whole fight was about me. Grandmother wanted Mom to abort me.”
She leans back against the couch.
Emmett: “Getting them to move… I don’t know, if you can get a loan or some money real quick you might be able to rent a place to keep them that’s not easy to look up, but I don’t know how you can keep them away indefinitely.”
He doesn’t look happy to say it.
“I don’t know who you can go to for help against them, other than Abélia.” He says that name in a half-whisper.
Then he hesitates.
“I… I actually do, maybe, but it’s kind of a cure-worse-than-disease situation.”
She sounds intrigued, but skeptical.
Emmett: He shakes his head, his face already pale. “I shouldn’t have mentioned. It’s the person who had me… do the thing I told you about. I don’t ever want to see her again in my life, and I owe her already. Getting in touch with her would be dangerous in the first place, too.”
“Look, I don’t know. If you could get out of the city, I would say that. But your family’s not gonna want to move.” He wrings his hands. “I think that the key has to be surviving until you can meet the lady. Because without her, I honestly don’t know what we can do to get them off you. Before, she was just a dangerous answer. Now… she might be your only one.”
Support: “Wait. You mean… her mom wasn’t the one who had you do the thing?” Celia looks like she’s having a hard time following.
Emmett: “No. No, she was… she didn’t make me do anything. She was just… creepy. Really fucking creepy. She breastfed her youngest in front of me, and the milk was black.” He doesn’t elaborate. “And she… she read my mind. Or something like it. She’s hard to keep secrets from.”
Support: “…but you think she’s not human.”
It’s the first time she’s put it into words. Not. Human.
Emmett: He shakes his head.
“I know she isn’t.”
Emmett: “She told me as much. She said I knew how to lie, and that any human would have fallen for what I had told her. And there were… other things.” He shakes his head. “I just knew. You don’t have to believe me, it might even be better if you don’t, but she’s not human, any more than the ones that had you were.”
Support: She pulls her knees up onto the couch, hunches her shoulders.
“You think I should get out. Just… leave? What about you?”
There’s a pause. She reaches for his hand.
“Come with me. We could…. fuck it, we could just go.”
Emmett: He smiles faintly as she takes it. He squeezes hers back.
“Where would we go?”
Support: “Literally anywhere. Out of the city. I don’t care. We can just leave. There’s nothing keeping us here.”
Emmett: Em looks at her. “There’s nothing keeping me here, Celia, and I haven’t been able to go. You…” He smiles faintly. “People with nothing to lose don’t get to go to family dinners and worry about keeping their boyfriends. You know? You’re thinking about leaving. And you’re right, we could. But you would have to leave all that.”
He stands up, and heads back to his room. “Think about it. I’ll take a shower. When I’m done, if you want to run, may as well hit the road soon. And if you don’t… I guess I’m going with you to dinner.”
When he returns, more than half an hour later, he looks like a different person. His hair’s been combed, his eyes look better, and he’s dressed simply but well, black slacks and a white shirt under a comfortable-looking blazer.
For a moment, he almost looks like Elliott.
“When’s dinner?” he asks gently. “And what’s your story about me?”
Support: “You clean up nice.”
She sets her phone aside. She looks like she’s been staring at it for a while. She stares at him instead, chews her bottom lip for a moment.
“Six. You know my mom is going to be there. And my sister. And… the rest of them.”
“I have no idea what we’re telling them. Ran into you at school? Technically it’s not a lie, we just leave out the cross dressing and the whoring and the Cos angle. And the murder. And the spending the night together. And literally any of the rest of the truth.”
“Yeah, so we just… lie through our teeth.”
Emmett: He nods, first at her obvious understatement, then at the recon she spells out. She probably doesn’t think of it that way.
“We lie through our teeth,” he agrees happily. “And we do it so they don’t have to know the truth. Don’t let yourself feel guilty for protecting your family, Celia. As for what we tell them… we have time to practice. I’m Elliott. I’m studying film at Tulane. It’s a dream I had from high school, but not something I think I’m cut out for—I’m considering majoring in…” he snaps his fingers, “Drama instead. I took a dance class once, a few weeks back, and that’s how we met. I help you practice sometimes. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but don’t be afraid to let them know you’re pretty sure I’m gay when I’m not in the room. No weird questions about why you’re bringing me home then, right?”
He spends the next few hours asking her about her siblings, what they’re like, and advises her on how to lie to them.
It’s fun to teach people things you know, he reflects. Maybe that’s why his parents do it.
Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009
GM: It’s a short drive from Em’s apartment to the Flores family’s temporary home. It’s a relatively familiar route to Em: Marigny has the best clubs outside of the Quarter, with more of a bohemian/LGBT and less tourist-centric vibe. The address is closer to the quieter, more residential Bywater and away from the most raucous partying, though.
Support: Celia looks down at her phone.
GM: Em can see Celia’s mom from the window. She waves when she sees Celia. And him.
Emmett: “Um,” he corrects her, “I say ‘um’ when I’m fucked up over something. Wait, what are you saying ‘uh’ about?” He brings the car to a slow.
Support: “Stephen texted. He’s coming to dinner. Said his phone was dead.”
There’s a whole new flavor of panic to her voice.
“Em, you can’t tell him. You can’t. About what… about last night. Any of it.”
“And I told my dad we broke up. Oh my God Isabel is going to see him and tell Daddy.”
Emmett: “Calm down,” he says instantly. “It’s not a problem. I’ll let you out here and drop you off, just like a friend would. Remember, I’m just a guy who was in your dance class. This is normal.”
GM: Another car pulls up. A boy a little older than Celia gets out. He’s tall and slender, with brown hair and blue eyes. He shoots off a text and walks up to the house’s front door. Celia’s mom looks at her phone and disappears from the window.
Emmett: “Text me if you need me to pick you up. You can think of a lie to tell them if you have to. A meeting with friends or something. I believe in you. Stay calm, and text me if you need me. I can stay close.”
GM: Celia’s mom answers the door, smiles, and hugs the boy. Then she points at the car with Celia and Em and waves happily.
The boy looks at Em.
Emmett: “Celia, take a deep breath. We’re gonna both get out, I’ll say hi, say I’ve got to go, and I’ll get back in my car and leave. No problem.”
Support: Celia nods.
“Okay. Okay okay, okay.”
Breathe. She does that. Three times.
“Okay. We can do this. Just saying hi. Gay dance friend. Okay.” Her head bobs.
Emmett: “Perfect, darling. Lights, cameras, action.” He steps out of the car, smiling wide, and waves at the pair.
He waits for Celia but doesn’t open the door for her, and lets her lead the way.
GM: “Sweetie, it’s so good to see you!” Celia’s mom exclaims when she gets out, hugging her tight. She sounds like she’s greeting her daughter after weeks apart.
“It’s been such a busy day, with all the kids… it’ll be really nice just to all sit down together a big dinner,” she says, but turns to greet Em.
Emmett: “Diane, right? It’s been a few years,” he says, holding out his hand to to the older woman. To Stephen, he looks him up and down a moment longer than necessary, holds out his hands, and says, “You must be Stephen—Cici has been talking my ear off about you. I wish I could stay.” He pouts magnificently.
GM: “Oh, it’s Diana—but my husband actually called me Diane once or twice, so it happens all the time,” she says in a laughing tone. She hugs him instead of taking his hand, though more briefly than she did Celia. “And I remember you! You’re Elliot, Cécilia’s boyfriend.”
“Are you two doing it long-distance, now that she’s off at Wellesley?”
Emmett: “I was,” he laughs, “but that was a few years ago,” he says, returning the light hug. “And no, we went our separate ways that year, actually, but I’m glad she’s doing well where she is. I know I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years.” He touches a hand to his chest and grins.
“I was just giving Celia a ride here, but I’ll get out of your hair.”
GM: Stephen slowly shakes Em’s hand. He can see the reproach in Celia’s boyfriend’s eyes when he calls Mrs. Flores ‘Diane.’ One’s elders in the South are traditionally addressed as ‘Mrs.’ or ’ma’am,’ after all, though Em always hated that. His father said he had “Yankee blood in you.”
“Oh, that’s nice to hear about her. Are you new to the city, Elliot?” Stephen asks.
Emmett: “I grew up here for the most part, but I try to see it with fresh eyes. Spent a lot of time traveling when I was young,” he says apologetically.
“Sorry if I seem abrupt, or eager to fly, ma’am,” he says to Diana. “I’m hurrying all over the place, these days. Drama classes and auditions and all that.”
GM: “Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing drama, Cécilia had so many good things to say about that movie you were working on,” Celia’s mom remarks. “And nothin’ to apologize for. Thank you so much for driving Celia over! We’ve all been busier than moths in mittens here today. I hope you like lasagna, we’ve already got a plate set out or you.”
Support: Celia fades into the background and tucks herself against Stephen’s side.
“Oh, Momma, I don’t know if he can stay. He said he was going to swing by the dorm to visit Emily. She hasn’t been feeling well.”
GM: “Oh, did you come here from somewhere besides the dorms?” Stephen asks.
Support: “From McCalister,” Celia tells him. She presses her face against his chest, looking up at him from beneath her lashes. “I was giving him some feedback on dancing,” she lowers her voice, “he’s not as strong a dancer as I am. But Emily texted earlier and is having a hard time. She failed her test. I feel like it’s my fault because she was in the hospital with me that night instead of studying.”
“She’s been sick, said she was going to start drinking.” Celia bites her lip. “I’m just kind of worried about her.”
GM: “Oh, no!” exclaims Celia’s mom concernedly. “Then it’s settled, we’ll have Emily over too. There’s no better cure for somebody in the dumps than smiles and company. A car ride over might not be a walk in the park right now, but if she’s well enough to drink she’s well enough to get her butt over here, too.”
Support: “Oh, Momma. I don’t think she can handle this many people right now. I was thinking I could just take her a plate, to be honest.”
GM: “Sweetie, self-medicating by drinking alone is not healthy. Emily might be a lil’ grumpy at the thought of coming over, but trust me, there is probably no better thing for her right now. She won’t be able to drink and I want to talk with her about some stuff anyway, if she’s goin’ to be our housemate. That’ll also help take her mind off the test and put it to work on somethin’ more constructive.”
“Your mom’s right,” says Stephen. He’s put one arm around Celia’s shoulder, a few moments after she leaned against him. “Socializing has lots of health benefits.”
Support: “Well… we could go back and keep her company. I just don’t think she’s up for the distraction of all the kids right now. That’s a lot.”
Emmett: Em’s caught a little off guard by Celia talking about this Emily person, but he recovers quickly.
“Y’all seem like you’ve got a lovely family gathering going. I wouldn’t want to intrude on that, and I don’t think Emily would either. Why don’t I go make sure she’s alright, take her out for dinner, all that, and you folks can enjoy your meal?” He glances at Celia. “What dorm are you in again?”
Support: “Josephine Louise. 216. That’s probably the best case.”
GM: Celia’s mom just smiles and emphatically shakes her head. “Too late! You’re in our hair like gum now. Any friend of Celia’s is perfectly welcome to have dinner with us. The kids are still pretty quiet, so this is the perfect time for them to get to know Emily if she’s goin’ to be moving in with us.”
“Yes, I’d also like to get to know Elliot,” says Stephen. “I’ll go pick up Emily. Celia should spend this time with her family.”
“Oh, that’s a just perfect idea, Stephen. I was goin’ to ask who should drive. Didn’t you meet Celia through Emily?”
“Yeah. We know each other.”
Support: “But you just got here. I haven’t seen you all day, Stephen. And, Mom, if she’s already been drinking she probably shouldn’t be around the kids.”
GM: “Oh, that’s true,” frowns Celia’s mom. “Hmm. I really don’t want to just leave her alone, though. She was there for us.”
“Okay. I’ll stop by her dorm, with food. I want to say thanks for all she did anyway. And if she seems up for it, I’ll drive her back.” She winks at Celia. “Plus you can get some practice babysitting, with these two fine men in case it feels overwhelmin’.”
Emmett: Em pauses and looks at Celia. It’s her call.
GM: “Yes, that sounds good, Mrs. Flores,” says Stephen. “It has been a while since I’ve seen Celia.”
“Perfect! Okay, let’s go on up and introduce y’all to the kids.”
Support: “Mom. Wait.” Celia tugs at her mom’s hand. “There’s a problem.”
GM: “Oh, what’s that, sweetie?”
Support: She glances at Stephen with her eyebrows raised.
“They don’t know I’m dating him because I told Dad we broke up. So if it gets back to him…” She trails off.
GM: Celia’s mom glances briefly at Em, then just gives her a rueful smile.
“Somehow I don’t think he’ll be too mad. He’s got other things on his mind.”
Support: “He’s already out.”
“And I didn’t want to air our business in front of everyone,” she says to her mom with a sidelong look at Elliot, “but the advice I was given by a friend of mine is to move you guys to a different location, with a friend or family, until he’s… settled.”
GM: The smile on her mom’s face dies.
Support: “So… yeah,” Celia finishes lamely.
GM: Celia’s mom glances at Elliot, as if deciding how much to say around him, then back to her daughter.
“No,” she finally says.
“Ma’am?” asks Stephen.
“I am tired of being scared of him.” Diana’s eyes are angry. “I have worked all afternoon on this dinner, while juggling childcare, legal work, finances, and house listings. I was really looking forward to this. I am not going to let him ruin it. We’ll eat, enjoy ourselves, and then talk about what to do next.”
Support: Celia takes a moment to find words.
“Okay.” Celia nods.
“Okay,” she says again, moving back to Stephen’s side.
Emmett: Em actually smiles, and says, “Those are strong words, ma’am. I don’t know much about your situation, but that sounds like the right way to live your life. I’d be honored to join you for dinner, if Celia isn’t too embarrassed to have me over.”
He’s impressed with this woman. She isn’t the timid lady who auditioned badly for a villain.
Well, here comes the awkward. Hope Cici can take it.
GM: “Thank you, Elliot. Though with this much of our dirty laundry in the air, I’d hope she’s past feeling too embarrassed right now.”
“Are you sure you want to be away from your kids right now, ma’am?” asks Stephen.
Celia’s mom purses her lips. “Celia, does Emily have family nearby? It sounds like maybe not, with the whole movin’ in situation?”
“Well, sort of. Her mom is in… Baton Rouge. For work. So, y’know, close by.”
GM: “Okay. It sounds like Emily really needs her mom right now. Can she be over to the dorms this evening? Do you have her number?”
Support: “I do! I’ll text her. Why don’t you guys go inside and I’ll be in in a sec?”
Celia steps away from the group and taps into her phone. After a moment, she holds it to her ear, then back down.
“I can’t get ahold of her. Must be in a… meeting.”
GM: “Okay,” says her mom, “here’s what we’ll do. Celia, you can bring Emily some food and hugs. She was there for us and she sounds like she could really use a friend right now. If she seems up for it, you can bring her to dinner. In fact, I want you to push her to be up for it. Company will be better for her than eating a sad plate by herself, or just with you. Emily was there for us, so she is a more than welcome guest in this house.”
“But not if she’s drunk off her rear. I’m sorry, but she can’t be around my kids if she’s drunk.”
Emmett: Em offers to go get her. “I know we’ve gone back and forth on this, but it seems like the least I could do as a guest. Wouldn’t feel right, being waited on while Celia went and picked up our friend. And you two—” he says while looking at Stephen and Diana, “have been waiting all day to see her, not me. I’ll pick up Emily and I can look after her if she needs to be looked after. I have a sister who hits the sauce a lot too, I’m used to that kind of thing. You folks should just be focused on having a nice time.”
GM: “Hmm. How well do you know her, Elliot?” Mrs. Flores asks. “If she’s been drinking to self-medicate, I really want it to be someone she’s really close to, like Celia.”
Emmett: “Oh, I’ve known her a while, now. We used to look out for each other at parties, that kind of thing. I can help her feel safe.”
He lies like he needs it to breathe.
GM: Celia’s mom nods. “Okay, does that sound good to you, Celia? She was there for us when we really needed her, so we shouldn’t do things by halves.”
“I admit part of me feels a lil’ bad over it not being you or me. Actually, really bad. But if Elliot’s her friend that sounds like where he’s most needed.”
Support: “Yeah, Elliot, why don’t you check in on her? I’ll just have a quick dinner here and then be back shortly. If her ex shows up just make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.”
Emmett: “Ugh, that guy,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll be fine. Better text her to let her know I’m coming over, for what that’s worth.” He swigs his keys from his pockets, says “goodbye” and “thank you ma’am,” nods to Stephen, and heads for his car.
GM: Celia’s mom lays a hand on her shoulder. “Sweetie, I want you to stay with us. We have… things to talk about.”
GM: “And to face, as a family.”
Support: “Mom, I promised Emily that I’d be with her tonight.”
GM: “Sweetie, I need you tonight. We need you tonight.” Her mom’s face is deadly serious.
“But, okay. If you promised Emily. Why don’t you go there with Elliot, and like I said, give her hugs and food. Bring her back for dinner if she isn’t drunk off her rear. Leave her with Elliot if she is.”
“I’ll go with them,” says Stephen. “I know her too.”
“Sure,” Em says jauntily. “Best not keep her waiting.”
Support: “Great!” Celia says cheerily.
GM: “Okay, tell y’all what, we’ll just have a later dinner,” says Celia’s mom. “I’ll keep the lasagna in the oven, and lay out another place, just in case Emily can make it.”
Support: “That sounds good, Momma. Sorry this came up, I know you wanted a big thing. I’ll make it up to you for making you wait. And we’ll talk. Just… tonight is…” Celia pulls her mom into a hug. “I love you, Momma.”
GM: Celia’s mom closes her eyes as she hugs her daughter tight. “I love you too, Celia. More than anything. I’ll expect you back sharp with a sober Emily, hear?”
Support: “We’ll stop for coffee on the way. I’ll put her in the shower.” She kisses her mom’s cheek.
“All right, who’s driving?”
GM: Celia’s mom abruptly hugs her again. It’s squeezingly tight. She gives a low sniff.
Emmett: “My car, may as well be me,” Em says jovially.
Hmm. How to keep this fuck from realizing I was just lying my ass off about knowing this girl.
GM: “Might as well be me, actually. I’d feel good being in the driver’s seat next to Celia,” says Stephen.
Support: “I’ll drive and put you both in the trunk, to be honest.”
Emmett: He laughs at Celia’s joke, and hands her the keys. “Hey, why not. Been a while since I hung out in my own backseat, anyways.”
GM: Celia’s mom is still squeezing her.
Support: “Momma, you gotta let me go so we can go,” Celia says gently.
GM: “I know.” Her mom gives another sniff and lets go, but cups Celia’s cheek with her hand. Her smile looks fragile but heart-deep. “I’m so proud of you, sweetie. You’re the whole reason we’re all here tonight. That we went to court, that we did… anything, to stand up to him.” She sniffs again. “I’m so, so proud.”
Support: “I know, Momma. We’ll beat him. We will. We’ll be back in a jiff, okay? I love you. Tell the kids I said hi.”
GM: “You’ll say hi, in a bit. We are having this dinner.” Her mom hugs her again. It’s just as tight as the second time, but she pulls away after a moment with a rueful smile. “Okay. Third time’s the charm. Go be there for your friend.”
“See you soon, Mrs. Flores,” Stephen says as he unlocks his car. He holds the door open for Celia.
Emmett: “Oh, I thought we were gonna take mine. Since I might end up not coming back, and all.” He keeps his face blank, innocent.
Support: “Tell you what, El,” Celia tosses the keys back to him, “why don’t you meet us there so we’re not stranded.”
GM: Stephen looks nonplussed until Celia does.
Emmett: “Makes sense too,” he says happily, smiling at her proudly.
GM: “All right. See y’all soon!” Mrs. Flores waves. She waits for them to get in their cars, then walks back to the apartment’s front door. She winces, holds her leg for a moment, then favors the good one.
Emmett: “See ya’ll. Race ya.”
Then he’s gone. Like the wind and the good times.