“I am tired of being scared of him.”
Wednesday afternoon, 1 April 2009
GM: There’s a Times-Picayune article about a state senator who was arrested and released. It was never even posted to the paper’s front page. Strangled before its birth.
Aborted and sent to Emil’s crematoria.
It’s just like her one-time tutor said. There are always intrepid hackers and disgruntled reporters who leak aborted stories to select messageboards. The lowest, hidden levels of the internet. Spawning grounds for filth and deceit. Intrepid web trawlers such as Celia can still find them.
She always did pay attention in computer science courses after that tutoring session.
Stephen, meanwhile, still hasn’t texted back.
Celia: Released. It’s been less than 48 hours and he’s already out. And the only article that mentions it is this one, buried so deeply on an obscure message board that the only people liable to believe it are the conspiracy theorist nut jobs who also trawl these forums.
Like Miranda. Celia wouldn’t believe a word that came out of that girl’s mouth.
The whole point of these boards, Celia knows, is the relative anonymity of its members. But if she can find out who posted the article, maybe she can get in touch if she needs to put the rest of the story out there. She starts digging.
She pulls up the Times-Picayune website in another tab to see what their story is, too. Someone silenced it. The editor-in-chief’s name should be online, which will give her some idea as to where to start.
After another brief moment of hesitation, she goes back to the message boards for additional information on the supposed sex ring. If someone else can back up Miranda’s claim then maybe bringing down the whole lot isn’t a bad idea.
GM: The Picayune has no other story. Senator Flores’ arrest and release was simply never even posted. The editor-in-chief’s name, Matthew Herczeg, is easy to find with a simple Qeeqle search.
Celia cannot find any evidence to back up Miranda’s claims of an a city-wide sex ring. There are instead claims of multiple sex rings operating with nigh-impunity throughout the city. Each one seems to have carved out its own territory and clientele. Some are high-class escort agencies. Posters claim they have everyone from the mayor to the police superintendent on their lists of clients. The Evergreen Plantation on Royal Street is cited as a frequent spot for “dates.” It’s a posh club owned by a rich playboy, Leon Gressau. Posters claim other sex rings are trafficking organizations. They bring in staggering numbers of undocumented immigrants through the city’s port. Authorities are paid off. The girls who come all disappear.
The username of the person who posted the article is CygodeNt. Celia isn’t able to track down their real identity, at least in the time that she has. But she can contact them via PM through the messageboard.
Celia: Celia takes a few notes on a piece of paper to reference later. She doesn’t have time to get into everything now with the depth she’d like, not if she wants to make it to dinner. Stephen still hasn’t gotten back to her, either.
She picks up her phone to send a few texts.
To her mom, Kids at dinner or just us?
To Emily, Checking in. wanted 2 make sure ur good.
She debates texting Stephen again, then finally picks up the phone to call him. He should be out of class by now, right?
GM: From her mom: Yep, kids will be there! They’re all awake now.
From Emily: i bombed the test. spent all my time sleeping. when i could have fucking studied. i had extra time. i could have gotten an A on this. fuck my life.
“Hi, you’ve reached Stephen Garrison. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” sounds her boyfriend’s voice.
Celia: “Hey Stephen,” she says to his voicemail, “can you call me? As soon as possible. Okay. Um. Bye.”
She hangs up. Checks her texts. Kids are all going to be there.
GM: There’s still no response.
Celia: Fuck you, too.
She sends a text back to Emily, oh no! sorry 2 hear. we will study 2gether next time, u got this.
She’s more bothered than she should be by Stephen’s lack of response. Guilty conscience, maybe. Concern that his stalker finally caught up to him. Concern that her stalkers—can she call them that?—caught up to him. Traced her back to him. But why him? There’s nothing that ties them together aside from their relationship. It’d make more sense to go after her family. Plus they’re easier to find. There’s no way that they took Stephen.
He’s just mad at her. For… something. She huffs. Boys.
GM: my grades have all been slipping. this exam was my chance to bring it up. and i blew it. i can’t get a 4.0 in this class, it’s impossible now. i blew it. i fucking blew it. so i could sleep. i hate my life.
i’m gonna get drunk on something cheap
Celia: Em, you blew 1 test 1 time. its gnna be ok. we’ll see if we can get extra credit for u or something and then a tutor or extra study sessions, and maybe leave 1 of ur jobs so u have more time 2 study.
also if ur drinking just be safe ok
GM: it’s not i can’t get a 4.0 anymore even if I get perfect grades on everything else and i can’t quit because i need the money i’m fucking broke i don’t have a family who’s paying for everything like you
i’m just fucked whatever i do
Celia: extra credit? or explain what happened? maybe he will let u retake.
whats more important to u? school or money? ur on scholarship. if u lose it then yes ur fucked. so cut back on work hours to focus on school.
GM: I CANT LOSE THE MONEY I SAID IM BROKE
Celia: OKAY SO WE WILL FIX IT STOP YELLING AT ME IM TRYING TO HELP
GM: i cant go to school anymore if im even more broke i can’t pick between them im barely hanging on
ive begged the prof for extra credit already he’s sick of me
im sick of me
i hate my life
i work so fucking hard and its not enough its never enough
i just wa to go to school and study and be a doctor
i hate my body im sick all the time
prof hates me falling asleep in class
im always so tired
Celia: hold on what do you mean you’re sick all the time? do you mean b/c you’re tired?
GM: what you want my symptoms
nice thin abou premed major
know all the ways im fucked wo doi
weak immu sys
come dow w shit
i lied abou isurac
u have to ha a poli
or u get expld
cuz im broke and cant buy 1
they find out im fucked too
haha im fucked so ma ways
Celia: Emmy where r u right now? dorm? im coming back 2nite so we can figure this out ok? ill bring dinner
GM: dorm wr else
i never leave
xpt wor n clas
i ha no life
Celia: ok. emmy. i got u. stay there. ill be by in a bit. we’ll figure it out okay. ily im not gonna let anything bad happen. we got this.
GM: There’s no response.
They can hope.
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.
Celia also gets a text from Stephen during the drive:
phone was dead c u there
GM: Actually, more like at the end of the drive. She can see her mom from the window. She waves when she sees Celia. And the boy she’s with.
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.
Celia: “Stephen texted. He’s coming to dinner. Said his phone was dead.”
It’s a whole new flavor of panic that sets in now. No longer a ‘why are you ignoring me,’ but more of a ‘I kissed this guy and cheated on you.’
“Em, you can’t tell him. You can’t. About what… about last night. Any of it.”
Throwing myself at you, especially not that.
“And I told my dad we broke up. Oh my God Isabel is going to see him and tell Daddy.”
They should just leave.
GM: Stephen’s car pulls up.
That’s pretty soon after saying he’d see her there.
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: Stephen gets out of his car, shoots off a text, and walks up to the building’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 Stephen. Then she points at the car with Celia and Em and waves happily.
Stephen 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.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“Okay. Okay okay, okay.”
He’s already here. At the door. Before she can warn him about Isabel. Before she can grab him and run. And now Em is… Em is offering a solution. Breathe. She does that. Three times, just for good measure. It helps. A little.
“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.”
Celia: If life is a movie, Celia thinks, then Em must be the leading man. That boy is good. It’s the only thought on her mind as she follows him out of the car and toward her mom, listening to him schmooze and flatter his way into her heart. She leaves him to it, fading into the background. When had she become an extra in her own life?
Stephen, though. Her heart skips when he looks her way, and she’s got her hand in his a moment later. She tucks herself against his 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.”
Maybe they can both get out of this. Dinner with the whole family is bound to be a completely awkward affair.
Send us home with food, Mom. Come on.
GM: “Oh, did you come here from somewhere besides the dorms?” Stephen asks.
Celia: “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.”
Celia: “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.”
Celia: “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?”
Celia: “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.”
Celia: “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.”
She shouldn’t have opened her mouth about Emily.
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.”
Celia: “Mom. Wait.” Celia tugs at her mom’s hand. “There’s a problem.”
GM: “Oh, what’s that, sweetie?”
Celia: 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.”
Like, next to the fact they got him arrested, ‘stole’ his children, and are pressing for full custody, alimony, and child support.
Celia: “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.
Celia: “So… yeah,” Celia finishes lamely. The implication is clear: if the kids meet Stephen as her boyfriend then his house isn’t safe.
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.”
Celia: Well damn. There’s that fire, Momma. Finally.
“Okay.” Celia nods. “Okay,” she says again, moving back to Stephen’s side.
If her mom isn’t going to be afraid of Maxen then she won’t be, either. She’s just as strong as her mom is.
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?”
Celia: Em’s voice is in her head, telling her to lie. More people added to the mix is not something she can handle right now.
Then why does she need to move in with you this summer, stupid?
“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?”
Celia: “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. Sends a quick text to Emily to ask how she’s doing.
GM: There’s no response.
Celia: Cool. Celia calls her instead.
GM: She gets Emily’s voicemail.
Celia: Probably passed out, right? Drunk. Right? Tired? She’s always tired. Probably turned her phone off.
She catches up with them, since that didn’t take long.
“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.”
Celia: “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.”
Celia: “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.”
As if I didn’t suggest this twenty minutes ago.
GM: Everything but going back with Stephen, at least.
“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.”
Celia: “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?”
Celia: “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.
Celia: “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.
Celia: “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.”
Celia: “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.
Celia: “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.
Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009
Celia: Celia waits until both Emmett and her mom have gone to pull Stephen in for the kiss she’s been thinking about all day. It’s brief, not nearly long enough to sate her, but they’ve got somewhere to be.
“I missed you,” she pouts. “And I got rid of him for us, so if you want to take a quick detour…”
GM: Stephen lets Celia kiss him, but doesn’t return it as he gets in the car. He closes the door behind her, twists the ignition, and drives.
“Are you sleeping with him?” he asks bluntly.
Celia: “Whoa,” she says, shocked at the turn of questioning. “No. What? Why would you think that? Stephen, he’s… I’ve seen him in a dress and makeup before. No.”
“Is that why you ignored my calls all day?”
GM: “So you haven’t? I’m just being jealous and paranoid?”
Celia: “Yes, Stephen. I didn’t sleep with him.”
GM: Stephen pulls the car over by the curb, ignoring an angry honk that goes up from another driver. He turns and looks at Celia.
“Look me in the eye when you say that.” His voice is hard. “That you haven’t cheated on me with him.”
“My grandpa said you can always tell in someone’s eyes.”
Celia: Celia is taken aback by the fervor in Stephen’s voice. She doesn’t like that he doesn’t believe her. She doesn’t like it at all. But she also gets it, the fact that he wants to make sure she wasn’t messing around on him, and she wants it to be true. So she reaches for his hand with hers, and looks him in the eye, and tells him the truth.
“Stephen. I did not sleep with him. I have not slept with him. I don’t want to sleep with him. I…” she looks away at this part, and a flush comes to her cheeks. “I really, really like you. Okay? Like. A lot. Like… it scares me how much I like you sometimes because I… because you know about me. Everything about me. And I keep thinking I’m not good enough, that you’re going to get tired of the family drama, but… God, Stephen, okay, I might actually be in love with you.”
She carries on, in a rush. “I was anxious all day when you didn’t get back to me. All day. I sent you that heart and I thought maybe you were reading into it and then I was like of course he’s reading into it and then you finally got back to me and there was just this flutter and I knew. And I’ve known for a while. Please, don’t… sorry. Sorry to spill this on you, oh my god please pretend I didn’t tell you that.”
GM: Stephen stares back into Celia’s eyes with all the intensity of the prosecutor he wants to be as she talks.
It’s a truth she spins to satisfy any lawyer.
After all, she didn’t cheat on Stephen.
Then she says that four-letter word.
The mask of the relentless Mafia-busting federal prosecutor, the man Stephen wants to be, falls away. He isn’t that man. He’s another young, bumbling, and confused college kid with a four-letter bomb dropped into his lap.
He stares at her for a moment like a deer in headlights.
“I… I think I might love you too, Celia.”
His face turns red.
“And I feel like such an… asshole.”
He hangs his head.
“I’m. I’m really sorry…”
Celia: There’s that flutter again. The one in her stomach. It starts deep in her belly, warmth, and spreads to the rest of her. She can’t help the way she smiles, the light that’s in her eyes. Stephen loves her.
Stephen loves her.
It’s magical and beautiful and she hadn’t realized how desperately she wanted to hear him say that until he does. She doesn’t care that he just accused her of cheating, that they’re in the car on the side of a busy street, that people are waiting on them. She unbuckles her seatbelt and shifts until she’s on his lap. She takes his chin in her hand, lifting his face to hers.
“Say it again,” she whispers.
GM: Stephen wraps his arms around Celia’s waist, like he did when they first met and she wasn’t sure what to do with her hands. The red coloring his cheeks seems to drain away at her touch. He has a huge, almost disbelieving smile that lights him up past his eyes.
“I love you,” he repeats slowly.
He stares at Celia with that almost disbelieving smile for a moment. Then he leans forward and kisses her deeply. It’s not a passionate kiss so much as it is a warmly intimate one. Like her boyfriend is pouring out his heart in a third, wordless, I love you.
Whore, whispers Paul.
Celia: Whore, whispers Chase.
Happy little toy, whispers the woman.
Celia can’t get them out of her head. She lied to Stephen. She lied. But now she’s on his lap, and he’s kissing her, and he just told her that he loved her. As much as her heart wants to leap into the air and sing and dance it it shackled by the fact that she is a
Her back is up against the steering wheel, her thighs on either side of his lap, and the windows are clear. She doesn’t care. Her hand slides between their bodies, fingers fumbling to unbutton and unzip his pants. She will make those voices disappear.
GM: “W-we’re in public…!” Stephen half-laughs, half-whispers. His hands rest on her waist and shoulder. But he seems like the one unsure what to do with his hands now, and whether to stop or encourage his girlfriend.
Celia: “I don’t care. I need you.” Her words are half a growl against his lips. She lifts her skirt, slides her panties to the side. She’s already wet, and he’s hard, and what else is more important in the world than that?
Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009
GM: It’s Emmett’s first time to Tulane in a while. He last went there on a college tour with his parents. They’d said he could go to any college he wanted, but this was a good local one (where they worked), so it was one option to consider.
It was strained, though. Like everything was at 16.
Now there’s no Tulane or parents who want him to go to college, or who cook him lasagna like Mrs. Flores makes for Celia, who really wants her around, who hugs her three times and says how much she loves her.
There’s just an empty apartment. With Hot Pockets and Nutella and butter sandwiches.
Emmett: Not that he has been thinking about that.
Because he hasn’t.
“MOVE, SHITBIRD!” he yells at a mildly inconvenient driver.
GM: He gets an angry honk back.
What was it Mrs. Flores said to Celia, exactly?
I’m so proud of you sweetie. I love you so much. I’m so, so proud. I love you more than anything.
It was some iteration of that.
Emmett: People say a lot of things. Like “Heil Hitler.” Or “You just need to apply yourself.”
He drives to Tulane, thinking about all the coke he’s going to let himself do later.
GM: Josephine Louise House, better known as JLH, is a three-story red-bricked building that serves as one of the girls’ dorms. It looks pretty old.
Em might wonder what’s taking Celia and her boyfriend so long.
Or he might not.
The desk coordinator glares at him when he comes in. “Excuse me, boys aren’t allowed in Josephine Louise! You need to be accompanied by a resident!”
She glares at him a while longer.
Emmett: He holds up a hand and smiles. “I heard you, I just wanted to make sure I heard you right. Accompanied by a resident, you said?” He sighs. “That’s gonna be hard. My friend texted me from inside her dorm and she’s not really in a position to get out. I can wait a little longer for her roommate to get here with her boyfriend, but I hope she isn’t, you know…” he makes a face and drops his voice.
“Unconscious. She was drinking herself under the table on the phone earlier. It’d be awful if she hurt herself like she said she was going to. Ugh, her family might even sue. Do they make you sign anything to do your job?”
GM: “Oh my god,” the desk coordinator sighs.
“Fine, fine. Just go straight to her dorm.”
Emmett: 216, he thinks as he takes a flight of stairs up. When he finds the door, he knocks on it and calls, “Emily? It’s a friend.”
GM: There’s no answer.
Emmett: “Emily, I’m a friend of Celia’s. She’s worried about you.” He knocks incessantly.
GM: “Mmm, friend troubles?” remarks a redheaded girl in a turtleneck who’s walking by.
Emmett: He rolls his eyes and mouths ‘I know’ to her, even as he keeps knocking.
GM: There’s no answer.
“Dunno how much you can do if you don’t have a room key,” says the redhead.
Emmett: “Yeah…” He shakes his head. “It’s upsetting. My friend sent me here to look after her, but she’s with her boyfriend and they’re worse than rabbits, so of course they’re going to take forever. What am I supposed to do?” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Just keep knocking, I guess. Unless something better comes along.”
GM: “How about you keep me company in my dorm?” the girl smiles.
Emmett: He shrugs his shoulders and smiles at her.
“I mean. I am supposed to be accompanied by a resident. At all times. The girl down there was very clear about that.”
GM: The redhead takes his hand.
Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009
GM: It doesn’t take the lovers very long to consummate their feelings. Celia climaxes before Stephen, but he does too. They’re soon spent and draped over each other on the car seat, hugging through their sweaty and sex-smelling clothes.
“Wow,” remarks Stephen, his cheeks still red. “That was…”
“Jesus. I can’t believe we just did that, right here.”
He’s grinning as his eyes sweep the sidewalks. There’s a couple people staring. The windows are actually steamed a bit. Celia thought that only happened in movies.
Celia: Celia’s face is flushed, cheeks red and eyes bright. She doesn’t care that there are people looking. She can barely make them out through the fog on the window. She laughs at it, pointing it out to Stephen and telling him she didn’t think that was a real thing that happened.
Anyway, it’s dark. She slides off of him and back onto her own seat, fluffing up her hair and wiping the sweat from the back of her neck. His cum drips out of her when she moves. It’s an altogether interesting experience, and she can feel it pooling in her panties, which are now… well, ruined, probably.
“Yeah,” she agrees, breathing heavily. “That was… yeah.” She giggles, telling him that they should get going once he buttons himself back up.
GM: Stephen waves jauntily at one of the onlookers.
Celia: “Oh my god, don’t!” But she’s laughing as she grabs at his hand to put it down.
GM: Stephen rolls down the window with his other hand.
“Hey! COME GET SOME!” he yells, laughing his head off.
“WE HAVE ROOM!”
The indistinct onlooker quickly bustles away.
Celia: “Stephen!” She covers her face with her hands. She can’t believe he just did that.
GM: Stephen laughs harder.
“You started it!”
Celia: “Just go!”
GM: “Yeah, we should go again!” he laughs, squeezing Celia’s breast.
“I wonder if we’ll draw a crowd…?”
“We could charge for viewings.”
Celia: “Or,” she says, removing his hands from her, “we could go back to the dorm because we have people waiting on us, and once we get rid of them we have all. Night. Long.”
GM: The mirth mostly disappears from Stephen’s face at those words.
“Don’t you want to be there for your family, though, in case your dad…?”
He clears his throat, raises the window, and twists the keys. Starts driving.
Celia: Oh. Nothing to bring a girl down after sex like the mention of her father.
She looks down at her lap. Suddenly the feeling of him inside of her—sans condom, so it’s actually him, not the synthetic latex—is a little more dangerous. A little less sexy. A little more reckless. The onlookers are potential photo leaks waiting to get back to her father.
“Right,” she says again, as if that means something.
GM: Stephen clears his throat again uncomfortably and drives.
“Sorry. That… really killed the mood. But if your dad’s out of jail…”
Celia: “Yeah. They need to move. They shouldn’t stay where they are. It’s not safe.”
GM: “Does h…” Stephen trails off.
“Wait. Are you on the pill?”
Celia: There is a very long, very awkward silence.
GM: “Oh, fuck,” Stephen whispers.
Celia: “Oh, fuck,” Celia echoes.
GM: “Okay. There’s… we can pick up a pregnancy test. And an emergency contraceptive. Both. To be safe.”
Celia: Celia sinks lower into her seat. She covers her face with her hands. She can’t believe they’re having this conversation. That they need to have this conversation.
Talk about mood killer.
“They work for 72 hours. Sooner is better,” she finally says. Emily had told her that.
GM: “I thought you needed to wait three days…?”
“Fuck. I don’t know anything. Just to use a condom, and clearly not even that.”
Celia: “No. You take it right after. I… I think.”
Maybe the 72 hours thing was that she had to wait that long. Emily will know.
“Don’t. Don’t do that. We both… we…”
Her, it was her who did this.
“Don’t,” she says again. “It’s fine. We’re fine. One time. J-just stop at the drug store and we’ll ask.”
GM: “God damn it,” Stephen swears softly. “Okay, we can ask the people at the pharmacy. When to take it. They’ll know. If it’s not there on the box.”
“Box? Is that what it comes in? Fuck, I don’t know anything.”
Celia: “You have to get it from the person. You just ask for it. It’s not… I mean, they tell you those things when you buy medications.”
GM: “I haven’t ever needed to buy medication. Yay me.”
Celia: “First time for everything, right?”
There’s a pause.
“Celia,” he says, “I can’t have a kid right now. You can’t. We’re way too young.”
Celia: “What? I—I know that. Of course I know that. I wasn’t… you don’t… Stephen, I didn’t plan this, it just—of course I don’t want a kid right now.”
GM: “Okay. Good. I know you didn’t. I’m just saying, to be clear.”
Celia: “Wha… what if the thing…?”
GM: “The thing?”
Celia: “What if it doesn’t work?”
GM: “I think it works most of the time. Just like condoms. More than condoms, I think. But that’s what we’re getting the pregnancy test for.”
Celia: “Okay. We should go now. To be safe. I’ll text them that we’re… getting ice cream.”
GM: “Good idea. And we can get an abortion if it doesn’t work.”
“Well, you can, I mean.”
Celia: Celia presses a hand to her stomach. She doesn’t mean to, it just happens. She doesn’t say anything. She nods, but the movement is small and jerky, barely a nod at all.
GM: “…are you okay with that?”
“Celia, we can’t have a kid. I don’t make nearly enough money.”
Celia: “I know! I know that. I don’t want a kid. I wouldn’t—we can’t. Of course we can’t.”
GM: “I don’t even want to think about kids until I’m a lawyer, and probably not for a while after. My dad would be furious.”
Celia: Mine too. He’d kill me. Maybe even literally.
“I know. We’re not. It’s… it’s okay. We’re getting the pill thing, and it’s fine.”
GM: “Right. I’m just saying, if it doesn’t work, abortion. We have to.”
She prays to God that she does not need to take that route.
GM: “And, maybe we should get you the pill too, while we’re there. In case something like this happens again. You know, spontaneous sex in the middle of a public street.”
He grins faintly at that.
Celia: “Can I do that? You can just… buy it?”
Why hadn’t she thought of that?
GM: “I… don’t know. I’ve never bought the pill. But why not?”
Celia: “We can find out. And… maybe go to a clinic if not.”
GM: “I feel like such a dumb kid.”
Celia: “Don’t. You didn’t… I mean we … we both did. It’s both of us. We’ll get through this. It’s probably nothing. Just imagining the worst case scenario is normal for people. So it’s fine. We’re fine. We get the contraceptive and then we’re fine and I’ll start taking the pill and… and it’s fine.”
GM: “Right,” Stephen agrees, squeezing her hand.
“It’ll be fine.”
Wednesday evening, 1 April 2009
GM: They stop off at a drugstore and pick up some EContra EZ and a pregnancy test. They are not able to buy the pill over the counter. The pharmacist rolls his eyes at the young couple when they have questions. He tells them to “pay attention to the box, since you couldn’t be bothered in sex ed.”
“What sex ed?” Stephen glares back. “Thanks for being so helpful.”
The older man ignores him.
“What an asshole,” Stephen mutters after paying for the items with his credit card. “They don’t teach anything besides abstinence!”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything in the store. The whole store was looking at her. Judging her. Thinking that she’s a whore. She can feel it in the way they look at her. She kept her eyes on the ground the whole time, wishing it would open up and swallow her down.
She remembered the ice cream, though.
“I know,” she says when they get back to the car. “I don’t know why they call it education if they don’t tell you anything but not to have it or you’ll go to Hell and get STDs and have dumpster babies.”
GM: “Yeah.” Stephen shakes his head. “I guess we can try another store and see if they have the pill later. And maybe you can take this once we’re back at your dorm. It says the sooner the better.”
Celia: “Right. Yeah. As soon as we get back.”
GM: They’ve also picked up some ice cream to bring Emily. Celia’s mom sent an, Oh my god! I forgot to give you food for Emily!!! text message a little while ago.
Celia: its ok mom we got ice cream.
GM: Ice cream is good, get her something!
But don’t give it to her if she isn’t drunk, don’t want to spoil her appetite. :)
The pair arrive back at Josephine Louise a little while later. Emmett doesn’t seem to be around. Stephen doesn’t seem to much miss him.
“…what was that you said about him wearing a dress?”
Celia: “Oh. That. Listen,” Celia reaches for his hand, lowering her voice even though no one is around. “I am not supposed to talk about this, but I think he’s super gay. Like… ‘let me put makeup on his face’ gay. Just don’t mention it, okay? I don’t think a lot of people know, I think he’s pretty closeted, but I know he was seeing a guy for a while.”
GM: Stephen frowns. “Your mom said he was some girl’s boyfriend. But I guess that’s the definition of closeted.”
Celia: “He dated my friend in high school. He and I never talked back then, but… yeah. I think he just kind of figured it out recently, or became more open about it, but still not a lot of people know.”
GM: “Well, drama major.” Stephen rolls his eyes.
The desk coordinator gives Celia and her boyfriend a judging look, but doesn’t stop or speak to them. They go back to Celia’s dorm. Emily is lying face-down on her bed. There’s a bottle lying at the corner. Her hair is mussed and sweaty-looking. She doesn’t respond as they come in.
Celia: “Emi?” Celia crosses the room to Emily’s bed, reaching out to gently shake her shoulder. “Emi, sweetheart, wake up.”
GM: There’s a low moan.
Celia: “Can you grab her some water, Stephen? The fridge?”
Celia climbs onto the bed with the half-asleep girl, rubbing a hand along her back.
“We brought ice cream. He should have been here by now. Elliot, I mean. Did you see his car?”
GM: “I didn’t,” Stephen answers as he grabs the water. Every fridge in the South has a pitcher of ice water. He pours some into a cup.
Emily just gives another moan.
Celia: “Can you call him? See where he is?”
Maybe he bailed. Maybe he is tired of her shit and instead of saying anything to her he just dipped. Maybe he was pulled over for speeding. Or in a car accident.
Celia takes the water from him, fishing the pills out from her purse. First things first. She takes one, then sets an alarm on her phone to remind her to take the other tomorrow. Then she nudges Emily until the girl slides over and Celia can pull her head onto her lap.
“Emi, wake up.” She taps her cheeks lightly.
GM: “I don’t have his number,” says Stephen.
Emily’s eyes are puffy and red from crying. Her face is pale.
“Whasit…” she grogs. “‘M tired… fuck m’ life…”
Celia: “Hey, Emi. Hey. I’m here. We have some water for you.” Celia holds the cup out. “Have a drink, you’ll feel better.”
GM: “I… feel… like… shit. Cuz m’ life is shit. Shit. Shit. To’al shit.”
Celia: “No, sweetheart, no. You’re not. You’re not at all. You hit a rough patch. It’s okay. We’re gonna get it taken care of for you. Hire a tutor. Mom’s getting a new place. We’ll figure out the other thing.”
GM: Emily starts crying.
“I’m… fucked. I… bombed… the test. I won’t… get… med school. It’s… too l… I’m fucked… I fucked it all up…”
Celia: “One test, Emi. One test. It’s going to be okay. I promise you it’s going to be okay. We’ll fix it.”
GM: Emily cries some more.
Stephen looks a little unsure what to do, but sits down next to Celia. “Hey. It’s just one test. You can retake classes, can’t you, if it’s really bad?”
Emily just keeps crying. “I’m so… tired… I can’t… keep up… I can’t… I can’t… I’m try… I’m tryi… I can’t…”
Celia: Celia gives Stephen the run-down in a quiet voice, filling him in on what’s been going on with Emily lately. The late nights and bad grades and extra jobs. She doesn’t tell him about the insurance, though, since it might get her expelled.
GM: “Geez. I knew you were working a lot, but I don’t know how you do it,” Stephen says.
Emily buries her face against Celia’s lap as she sobs. “I wish… I had… a fam… mom… like… like yours…”
“Who l… l… loved… me… who g… gave… a… damn…”
“Wh… who’d… pay tui… buy me cars… make me… food… bu… jus… care…”
Celia: “Sometimes,” Celia says quietly, “you’re born into a shitty family and a bad situation. And you can let that hold you back, or you can pick yourself up and move on. Family doesn’t have to be the people who share your blood. Family can be people who love you, who you love, who look out for you.”
“So if you want my mom, then she’s your mom too. She loves you, Emi. I love you. Okay? We’re here for you.”
GM: Emily’s quiet for a moment. “Y… you’re jus… you mea…?”
“Th… thas wha… they said i… foster… care… but they… din…”
“…we had… this one… day… we were all playi… some playgrou…. whe… grownups came… talked to us…. sat d…. cided who to adop… like… we were pets… at a…. pet store… they… wouldn… even… talk to me…”
Celia: “Oh, Emi.” Celia pulls the girl against her, as tight as she can given her arm and their positions. She holds her close, rests her chin on Emily’s shoulder so that they’re cheek to cheek.
“Yes. Yes, of course I mean that. Of course I do. You are not that little girl anymore. You are amazing. You are brave and selfless and so smart, you are so generous, you are the best friend I could ever ask for. More than that, Emi, you’re my family now too. Okay? You’re mine now. I’m yours. That’s how this works.”
“I know a guy,” she says to Emily, “who used to tutor me when I was in high school. I’ll give him a call. See if he has any recommendations for the classes you’re in. Or the campus has the student center, I know they do writing help, I’m sure there’s help for this too. Okay? We’ll get school figured out. You’re going to be an amazing doctor some day. Remember when you fixed my arm? I didn’t know to do any of that. But you fixed it up so it didn’t hurt and called my mom and took me to the hospital. When they forgot to see the rest of me, you took care of that too.”
“So you got this.”
GM: Emily doesn’t say anything for a moment. She lets Celia hold her, then pulls herself up. She turns around and half-hugs, half-collapses over her friend. She still doesn’t say anything, but gets snot and tears all over Celia’s already sweaty shirt.
“Tha… sounds…” she sniffs. “Really gre…”
“I’ll… tutor’s ok… but I jus… wanna be less sick…”
Celia: “We’ll get that straightened out too. Take you in to see someone. Find out what’s going on. Okay? We’ll take care of this. I’ve got you, Emmy.”
GM: “But I don have… insur…” Emily trails off, then mumbles, “Oh… kay. Okay… you’re such a goo… frien… me having this… pity party…”
Celia: “I know, baby. I know. We’re gonna figure that out, too. I’ve got you.” Celia rubs her back. She doesn’t seem to mind the snot and tears on her shirt.
GM: Emily might be taking up a lot of Celia’s attention right now, but it doesn’t escape her how Stephen gets up from the bed and quietly exits the dorm room.
Her roommate doesn’t say anything more. Just clings to her for a while.
Celia: Celia is content to hold Emily for a while. She doesn’t say much else, just rubs her back and kisses her cheek, tells her that she loves her occasionally.
Only when the tears seem to have run their course does she bring up dinner.
“You hungry? We can grab something. My mom invited you to dinner, but uh…” Celia glances at her phone. It’s been a while. “Might be over. I can find Stephen and El and make them take us out. Watcha say? Night on the town?”
GM: Emily gives a half-choked little laugh into Celia’s ear. “I’m. I’m a mess, right now. I’d… not be really good…”
She sniffs again and gets out, “But I’d… I’d love to have… quiet dinner with you… your mom… if she’s… she’s a really good cook…”
Celia’s phone has some increasingly frantic texts from her mom that end with, CELIA ARE YOU SAFE????
Celia: “Not tonight,” Celia tells her. “The kids are all there, it’s chaos. But soon. We’ll meet up with her. She’s an amazing cook and you’ll love it.”
She texts her mom back.
GM: There’s no response from her mother.
Celia: “I’m gonna find the boys, okay Em?”
Celia calls Em first. The real Em.
GM: “O… okay,” Emily sniffs. “I should… maybe clean up…”
Celia: “Get a shower in,” Celia agrees while it’s ringing. “I’m gonna change.”
GM: “Y… yeah…” Emily sniffs. She reluctantly lets go of Celia and slowly ambles off the bed. She closes her eyes and holds her head for a moment. She looks unsteady on her feet. The bags under her eyes are so heavy, and her complexion so pale.
She seems to recover, enough, after a few moments. She takes a deep breath. As she shuffles out of the room, she turns around and says,
“Celia… I love you too.”
Celia: “Oh… oh, honey, I didn’t realize…” Celia hangs up. She strides across the floor to Emily and has her arms around the other girl in seconds. “Come on, I’ll help.”
GM: “I… can make it, I was just… in bed a while…”
Celia: “I’ve got you,” Celia says again. “I should shower anyway.” She scoops up the bag of toiletries on their way out the door, throws it over her shoulder.
GM: “Yeah, you…” Emily gives a low laugh, “smell like sex…”
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM
GM: Em and the girl make it to second base. Em might like to go further, but the drugs they do together are great. Really great. He’s in spaced-out bliss by the end. He can barely say what they did, but his headache all gone.
The redhead tells Em she has somewhere else to be and to let himself out whenever. Pretty trusting to leave him with all her stuff.
His phone rings after she’s gone.
Emmett: Em’s head feels better than it has in a week. He’s light as a kite and high as a feather.
He’s in such a good mood that he doesn’t even burglarize her dorm. It’s a new day.
He picks up his phone as he closes the redhead’s door behind him.
“Hey,” he says. “How much did I miss?”
Celia: Em hears Celia’s voice, muted, before she hangs up.
Emmett: “Oh. Okay, cool.” He makes his way to a bathroom, stops, realizes he’s about to become a sex offender, and instead walks back towards the door of 216.
I remembered the number! he thinks gleefully. I never remember the number. Maybe I’m finally ready to be an adult, instead of whatever the fuck I’m doing with my life.
Then he realizes he’s walked past it.
He doubles back and knocks.
Celia: The door of room 216 opens. A girl’s voice drifts out, “…smell like sex,” and Celia’s laughter follows it. It’s cut short when she sees Em standing on the other side, hand poised to knock. She has her arms around Emily and a small bag slung over one shoulder. She looks surprised to see him.
“Hey! There you are.”
Emmett: “Sorry,” he says with a chuckle. “I got distracted along the way. It’s been known to happen. ADHD and all that.”
He looks to the other girl. “You must be Emily, this is a little awkward, but would you mind pretending that we’ve been friends for a few years around Stephen? Long story, but it’s for Celia. Right, Celia? God, isn’t Celia the best?”
GM: The other girl looks even more strung out than he is. She looks like Celia is half-carrying her.
Emmett: “…sorry if that’s a lot to take in right now.”
GM: Emily starts crying.
Celia: “Oh my god, El.”
GM: “She… she is… I don have… she said she’d be… my famil… she’s… so nice…”
Celia’s phone rings. It’s Cécilia.
Emmett: “I know,” he says beaming, looking a little confused from one girl to the next. “Celia’s a wonderful friend. We all agree. Is there anything, I um, can do for you?” He blinks, and then remembers, “Oh, and my name is Elliot. But please call me El.”
Celia: “Hold on,” Celia says. She fishes the phone out of her pocket and glances at the caller ID.
She tries to open her phone with her one arm still around Emily, but it’s tough. “Here, hold her up a sec, we’re heading down the hall to the showers. Emily, this is El, he’s also a good friend, he’s gonna help us down the hall.”
Celia flips the phone open.
She makes a shushing noise at Elliot. Very pointedly.
GM: “Celia, hi,” sounds the voice of Em’s old girlfriend. There’s a faint laugh. “I can’t get over how similar our names are, sometimes.”
Em hears every word.
Celia: “Ha, right? That was… definitely frustrating sometimes in high school when people called me the wrong name.”
As if they could ever confuse the two girls. They’d done it to be mean.
“How’s it going?”
GM: “Right now I’m a lot more concerned with how you’re doing,” Cécilia answers seriously. “So I talked with Maman about your family’s situation.”
“And she agreed the best options for you right now are your grandmother’s house or a women’s shelter.”
Celia: “Ah. Okay. Thank you. I will talk to Mom about it again. I appreciate it.”
GM: “Have you gone to either of those, yet? It’s getting late, and that’s when a lot of incidents tend to happen.”
Celia: “Ah, no, there was something that came up at school. I’m trying to handle it now, actually, then go back and grab Mom and the kids.”
GM: “Oh, no, is it anything I could help with?”
Celia: “Ah, well, I’m not sure. My roommate is just having a tough time, but we got it figured out, I think. She’s just been sick a lot lately. Dizzy. Tired. Pale. That kind of thing. So we’re just figuring out our options. Little too much to drink tonight, so I’m getting her cleaned up.”
“Hey, do those shelters help with, uh, illness?”
GM: “Hm, they aren’t doctors. They have first aid kits, home remedies, and beds to sleep things off. But they usually provide referrals to other health services for anything really serious.”
Celia: “Ah, right. Figured I’d ask while I had you on the phone here, long shot. No insurance, that kind of thing.”
GM: “Oh, that is a problem,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “There are a couple free health clinics in the city. How bad would you say her symptoms are?”
“If she seems like she could be okay in the morning, I might focus on getting your family somewhere safe first, and dealing with that later.”
Celia: “Hey, Cécilia, can I call you back about this? I’m, uh… I mean it’s…” she steps away for a moment, watching Em and Em head down the hall toward the bathroom.
“Listen, it’s pretty ugly. I need to take care of this and then grab my mom.”
GM: “Of course. Let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”
Celia: “Will do. Talk to you soon.”
She hangs up.
“El, give me your keys. Get Em back to bed. I have to go. I’m taking your car.”
GM: “Thought we were gonna shower…” Emily grogs.
Celia: “You’re gonna shower with El, sweetheart. If he touches you in a bad way let me know and I’ll take his balls off, okay? My mom is in trouble. Dad is out of jail. And I just—fuck, I left them there.”
The realization is hitting her for the first time. She should have stayed. She fucked up.
Emmett: “Okeydoke, slowpoke. Get it? Because you took forever to get here. Can’t complain. Oh, fuck, keys.” He tosses them to her.
To Emily, he says, “Sorry, but I’m also good company. Just not necessarily for showering. Ooh. Although I would not say no to a shower.”
“Wait, what? That feels like a weird thing for you to volunteer me for.”
Celia: “She’s drunk, she does not give consent. Em, I love you.”
She doesn’t clarify who she’s talking to. She tosses Emmett the bag with the shower supplies and room key. She’s gone before his complaints register.
He looks at the drunk girl in his arms, then at the shower supplies in his other hand, then down the hall at the bathroom.
Wednesday night, 1 April 2009, PM
Celia: Celia doesn’t walk. She runs. Down the halls, down the stairs—the elevator is too damn slow—she’s got Em’s keys in one hand and her phone in the other. She doesn’t have time to slow down for the girl in her way. She shoulders past her, and even as the desk attendant—fuck you, Beth—yells at her, she’s pushing open the doors to the hall to hit the parking lot.
She calls her Mom while she looks for Em’s car.
Pick up pick up pick up.
GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores!” sounds her mom’s smiling voice. “Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
Celia: Celia hangs up. Dials again.
She finds the car she’s looking for and slides in, throwing it into drive.
GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
“Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
Celia tries Stephen next. She’s glad she has Em’s address memorized, because she’s stopping there first.
GM: “Hi, you’ve reached Stephen Garrison. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”
Celia: “Hey it’s me just wanna know where you disappeared to. Call me. Love you.”
She hangs up. Guns it. The streets fly past. She’s at Em’s place before she knows it, though it still feels like it has taken too long. There’s a very real sense of dread coiling in her gut right now. She fumbles with the keys until she finds the right one and lets herself in. She tears through the house to find her purse. The gun. Both guns, really, since she didn’t trust anyone enough to keep hers at the JL dorms.
She searches Em’s bathroom for a painkiller, too, because her arm is throbbing and she is not going to go into this in pain. Whatever this is.
Then she’s back in the car on her way to her mom’s temporary house. She tries the phone again, not expecting much.
GM: “Hi there, you’ve reached Diana Flores! Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you first thing. Thanks!”
Celia: “Hey Mom can you call me please it’s urgent okay love you bye.”
Why. Why did she leave? Emily could have handled one night on her own. Em could have handled her. Where the fuck did Stephen go?
She takes a breath. Calls her dad.
GM: “You’ve reached the Flores residence. Leave a message and we’ll call you back,” sounds her dad’s voice.
Celia: “Dad? Are you there?” Desperate times, she tells herself as she speaks to the answering machine.
GM: There is no response from the phone.
Celia: “Dad, it’s Celia. Call me.”
GM: There is still no response.
Celia: She hangs up. Tries his cell phone.
GM: “You’ve reached Maxen Flores. Leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
Fucking voice mail.