“You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life.”
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: Celia hits the pillows. Then she wakes up. It’s eight hours later than it was a second ago.
She feels great.
Celia: She wakes, for one of the few times in her Requiem, feeling refreshed. The sun may have warned her that the process of transformation and breaking through her own bullshit will be difficult and painful, but waking this evening is a reminder that once she is through the pain she can find peace on the other side.
She takes that for the blessing that it is and rises, throwing back her covers to greet the evening with a whole, healthy body and smile.
GM: Her skin is hale and pristine once more.
There’s some texts on her Sunbook’s WhatsApp window.
From Mel, So glad to hear!
From Dani, Hey you wanna get together some other time? Sunday night?
From her mom, Looking forward to seeing you tonight! :)
From Emily, Looking forward to the worst dinner ever?
There’s also some Facemash pictures Celia is tagged in. They’re of her family enjoying brunch at the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Lucy is chowing down a Three Little Pigs Omelet. (That’s what Diana says it’s called—“Lucy saw the name and couldn’t resist!”) Robby at least isn’t in the pictures. He’s not the biggest church fan.
Alana’s also sent, coming by soon with dinner! love you! xoxoxoxo
There’s no response from Gui. She supposes she’s always been an early riser.
There’s nothing from Roderick either.
Maybe that’s because she’s an early riser too.
She’d never gotten back to him though. Had been debating what to do there. If she should just fake her own death, and if it’s worth giving up all of the privileges of Jade just to escape one person.
Maybe she could just flee the city. Take Gui with her, if she really wants. Go back to Chicago with him.
The thought isn’t as appealing as she thought it would be.
She takes a moment to send Roderick a text now. It’s a brief message: Safe. Explain tonight. Dinner?
She’d imagined it going differently tonight. Using these precious moments to herself to get ready, showing up at his door with everything she’d need for him, the blood and gift and her dress and ideas and plans and, and, and—
Why does it hurt so much?
She texts Dani back that there was an emergency and she will tell her about it soon. She’s sorry she missed their night together.
Another to Emily with an emoji of rolling eyes and a thumbs up.
And a heart to her mom.
She assumes that Alana coming by means Reggie got her message, but he didn’t text back at all. She tries not to worry about it. In the meantime, Celia does her face—flesh and makeup both—and rinses off in the shower before grabbing her clothes for the evening.
GM: There’s a knock at her door soon.
Celia: Celia finishes her look with a spritz of setting spray and moves to answer the door.
GM: It’s Alana. She’s likewise dolled up in a face full of glam, revealing club attire, and strappy high heels. She’s leaning against a 20something and cute enough black man who’s likewise dressed in club clothes.
“Hello, mistress,” she beams. “I was just telling Brayson here all about how you own me.”
The man smirks faintly and looks Celia over.
He looks a little unsteady on his feet himself. Actually, a little pale, too. Has someone else fed on him recently? The kine can’t tell, or they make excuses, but Celia’s own kind can and don’t. This one might only be up for a shallow feeding.
There’s always “dessert” with her mom, at least.
There’s another message from the woman on her WhatsApp window, too.
Can you come by before dinner, sweetie? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk with you about!
That’s 8 PM, just as a reminder!
It was 7:36 when she woke up.
Not much time for a fuck between the drive and getting herself ready.
But he’s right there.
They’re both right there.
And it’s not like she’s going to get laid at her mom’s. Or at Midnight Mass.
When even is she going to get laid tonight?
Celia: Sex can look like a whole bunch of different things, though. For a breather, it’s P in V intercourse. For a lick, it’s the simple swapping of blood. She doesn’t plan to give any to this young boy, and there’s little enough she can safely take from him.
“Brayson,” she purrs, “would you like to fuck my pet?”
She pulls the pair of them inside, giggling as she leads the way to the bed she’d just evacuated. She tells them how she wants it, with Alana on her hands and knees and Brayson filling her from behind. Once they get going she slides in behind the pair, running her hand down Brayson’s body. Cute enough, she thinks, kissing and licking his neck before she bites.
GM: “I’d like to fuck you both,” says Brayson, but he’s happy enough to start with Alana. He’s even more happy when Celia’s canines pierce his neck and the ecstasy of her kiss overcomes him. His blood is sweet with his lust, a taste Celia well knows, but there’s a strongly sour undercurrent. Actually, the sweetness just feels like a mask. She can taste the man’s emptiness. His depression. And here he still is, having sex with two partners at once, or at least thinking he is.
His blood actually doesn’t taste that unfamiliar.
Brayson pumps vigorously into the Toreador’s ghoul but blows his load soon enough. He lies groggily half-asleep in Celia’s bed. Alana tries to pull her domitor after them, crooning how much she wants to “get to the good part, now.”
The time reads 7:55. Five minute drive to be exactly on time for dinner.
“I’ll make your toes curl, mistress…” she purrs, running her hands along Celia’s arm, massaging her shoulders, and planting wantful kisses along her neck.
“We’ll do it any way you like it… I want to show you how much you mean to me… I want to make you feel good, the way you make me feel good…”
“You’re so beautiful… there’s nothing, no one, who compares… I’m so lucky to have you in my life…”
Celia: Celia wants it, too.
But she wants to enjoy it. She wants to take her time and not be rushed. She wants to use the rest of the toys she’d purchased for Alana, to give herself a cock and fuck her, to tease and lick her way down Alana’s body and spread her open in front of her so that she can taste the sweet love and devotion she has for her mistress.
She murmurs that to Alana as she kisses her neck, that she has a few new things she wants to try on her, that she has a surprise for her later and doesn’t want to spoil her appetite now with something quick and less satisfying.
GM: “Okay, Mistress…” Alana murmurs, seemingly placated. “We’ll do it tonight. Without any distractions. Without him. Just us.”
“Just us,” she repeats, planting a tender kiss on Celia’s lips.
Celia: “You don’t want me to share you with my friend? I think you’d enjoy the attention from the pair of us.” Celia gives her a final kiss. “Think about it.”
Then she’s gone, slipping out the door and on her way.
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: Celia drives to her mom’s house. There’s two unfamiliar cars in the driveway, along with the familiar pink Beetle and Emily’s car.
Who else is here?
Is it Robby?
Maxen? (Obviously, but who is the second? Did he bring someone?)
She’ll find out in a moment. She steps inside.
GM: The door is closed, but Celia has the key. She arrives inside to find Maxen sitting next to Diana and Emily on the living room couch. Emily does not look particularly friendly. Diana looks very friendly and is smiling and holding hands with her ex.
There’s also a second man who Celia doesn’t recognize. He looks around 30. He’s white, black-haired, clean-shaven, and has high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and proud ‘I know best’ features. He’s dressed in a dark red button-up shirt, black slacks, and matching oxfords.
Celia: She doesn’t need to think too hard on who that is. All the same, she takes half a second to detect the predator inside of him.
GM: He is like her.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Maxen is dressed similarly to the newcomer, tan slacks and a light blue button-up. Diana looks like she’s put a lot of effort into her appearance, to the esthetician’s trained eye: to a man’s, it’s an “I just threw this on” look, like Celia did for her with Henry, but Diana has a redder lipstick, some spritzes of her favorite rose perfume, and nicer jewelry. A floral dress and her favorite pink heels complete the look. It’s casual enough for dinner, but definitely on the dressier side.
Emily just has on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and socks. No makeup, either.
“Oh! Celia!” exclaims her mom, smiling widely and rising first to hug her. “I’m so glad you’re here, sweetie!”
“I sent you some texts, but I don’t know if they got through.”
“Why wouldn’t they have?” asks the other vampire, who then smiles. “But the important thing is that she’s here now.”
Maxen smiles too and rises from his seat, but seemingly waits for Celia to finish greeting her mother.
Celia: Celia smiles at her father and Emily, then hugs her mother fiercely.
“You look beautiful, Momma. I love that color on you. I didn’t get your texts, actually. I lost my phone and had to use the app on my laptop. The find my phone thing didn’t make it magically appear, unfortunately, so I didn’t get anything relatively recent. Hope you didn’t ask me to bring anything but my darling self.” She winks at Emily.
Celia pulls back from her mother to smile at the lick, eyes crinkling in delight.
“Hey, you.” In the same sort of way she’d say “hey baby,” the familiar inflection on the “you” that suggests he isn’t a stranger. Roderick, right? Who else could it possibly be?
GM: “Thank you, sweetie. You look Flawless as ever too,” her mom beams. She never gets tired of saying that. “But I’m so sorry to hear about your phone! When did it go missing?”
“We can order you a new one if you like,” says Maxen, hugging his daughter next as Diana stands aside. “Our treat, if you haven’t done that yet.”
Celia: “Earlier today,” Celia tells her mom. It’s vague enough but also true. “I’m not actually sure when or where, unfortunately. Tried calling it and nothing.” She shrugs, then allows her father to bring her into a hug.
“Hi, Dad. I didn’t yet. I was hoping it would turn up in my car on the way over, but no dice.”
She doesn’t miss the way he says “our,” though. What did she miss?
Once Maxen lets her go she gives Emily a private look, brows lifted.
GM: “It’d be ‘your treat’, technically, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Celia already ordered one,” says Emily, getting up to hug her sister next.
Celia: “Hey cutie,” Celia says to Emily, kissing her cheek.
All that’s left is the lick.
Roderick, right? It has to be. Even if he hadn’t seen Dicentra he’d obviously seen a night doctor. Dr. E., maybe; she knows they’re big in Mid-City, having seen their tag often enough.
She wonders how he’s going to make her pay for this.
Celia slips away from Emily, turning to face the lick as she takes a tiny step forward. There’s a hesitant, questioning look in her eye, as if asking for permission to approach, asking for some sign that he’s who she thinks and not some random because nobody had mentioned him yet and she doesn’t know what he’d already said to them.
Was this why her mom wanted her early? Or was it something with her dad?
She searches for the answer in his face and body. It’s not the outfit she’d picked out. What if she’s wrong?
GM: “Hey cutie,” replies Emily before breaking off the hug. She gives Celia a ‘hey are you going to shoot down his stupid offer or what’ look.
The newcomer smiles and rises to hug her.
“And hello to you too, Celia.”
Maybe he is some random.
Who knows what he’s already said?
“You two look adorable together,” beams her mom.
“Good choice,” echoes her dad,who then chuckles.
“Michael asked for my permission to date you. I told him that was up to you, but I appreciated the good manners.”
“I thought it had troubling implications when your dad used to beat you,” says Emily.
Celia: Why would she shoot down a free phone? Not that she needs the money, but… well, fuck it, right? Might as well roll with the punches. Since that’s what she suffered at his hands as a child. Abuse.
The lick’s reaction, tame as it is, doesn’t give her much confidence in this whole thing. She has to assume it’s her lover, but the lack of affection here…
It shouldn’t hurt. She tries to loosen her body when he comes in for a hug, to put her former love for him into the arms that she puts around him, the way she rests her cheek against his chest. She’d thought once that he was the perfect height for her. And he is. She fits snugly against him.
“Hi,” she breathes against him, looking up with the same question in her eyes. Something. Please. Anything, she needs anything from him.
She doesn’t yet pull away from him when Maxen speaks, but Emily’s comment makes something flicker in her eyes. Shame or guilt or something like pain, and Roderick(?) can feel her stiffen in his arms.
“Well, if he starts that up, Emmy, I’ve heard you’re good with a blade.” She turns to smile at her sister.
GM: “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” ‘Michael’ preempts when Diana starts to look fretsy. Maxen looks suitably contrite. Michael smiles down at Celia.
“Hi again. How are things with our mutual friend?”
Celia: She doesn’t miss the implication.
The gall. In front of her family! Emily no doubt caught it.
“It’ll be a night to remember,” she says, because there isn’t another answer she can give him right now. She disengages, stepping away from him to focus on her mom.
“Will you come with me to say goodnight to Goose, Mom?”
GM: Michael lets her go without further word.
Emily’s eyes follow the pair.
“Oh, we’ve already put her to bed, sweetie, I’m sorry,” says Diana. “We could check if she’s actually fallen asleep, if you like? Sometimes she stays up reading.”
Celia: Celia nods, happy for any excuse to speak to her mother alone for a moment.
GM: “He doesn’t go,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.
Celia’s dad simply nods. “We’re not there yet.”
“And we’re not ever going to be,” says Emily.
“Emi, please,” says Diana. She lays a hand on Celia as the pair see themselves out.
Celia hears, it though, before they even round the corner.
An eavesdropping Goose is up past her bedtime.
If the sound of small feet trying to quietly sneak away is anything to go by.
Celia: Celia doesn’t rat her out, not verbally. But once she’s out of sight of the people in the living room she sneaks up on the child with all the speed of her clan and scoops her into her arms, whispering about little spies in the corridors.
GM: A nightgown-clad Lucy all but jumps out of her skin and gives a sharp inhalation of breath as she clamps her hands over her mouth. Celia’s caught her red-handed.
“Don’t tell Mommy…!” she whispers.
Celia: “Never,” Celia assures her.
GM: Diana rounds the corner a second later and sees Lucy in Celia’s arms.
She doesn’t frown.
GM: Her eyes widen for a moment, then she holds a finger to her lips.
Celia: Celia winks at her and carries her prize down the hall, back into her bedroom.
She waves for Diana to come along.
“Company caught your eye, Goose?”
GM: It’s a short walk for the trio Lucy’s bedroom. Or technically, the pair, with Lucy not actually walking. Diana waits to say anything until they’re inside and close the door. The walls are deep blue and decorated with Butterfly stencils. Glow-in-the-dark stars glow down from the ceiling. The bed is heaped with pillows, stuffed animals, and lots of blankets, including a sun and moon patterned quilt Diana made. More stuffed animals, dolls, and other children’s toys sit around the room, along with a desk for schoolwork. That’s expected to see more use in the future.
A bunny-themed nightlight sits in the corner.
Because monsters in the dark are real.
Someone should’ve told Celia that when she was Lucy’s age.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Celia: She doesn’t imagine that a nightlight would have stopped him any more than the blankets over the head did.
GM: Or her.
Or the one in the living room.
Lucy just gives a timid look.
“We’re not mad, Goose, it’s okay,” says Diana. She smiles as she strokes the child’s back.
Celia: “Not at all, baby. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”
And look how that had turned out for her.
Maybe it’s a bad comparison.
GM: It’s a terrible comparison.
“Mommy Emi was mad…” says Lucy quietly.
Celia: “Not at you, sweetie.”
“She’s not super happy with the company right now.”
Celia glances at her mom.
“I think she’s jealous that Momma was holding someone else’s hand.”
Celia lifts her brows at Diana. What had that been about?
GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. She looks like she’d been about to ask why.
Celia’s mom just gives a hapless roll of her shoulders.
Celia: “Let’s get you tucked in, little Luce, so the dinner Momma made for all those boring adults doesn’t get cold.”
GM: “Why can’t I see Grandpa?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “Grandpa is… he’s not always the nicest man, Lucy. When I was little he used to make Momma and I pretty sad. Right now we’re trying to fix that and see how things go so he doesn’t make you sad, too.”
Celia pulls back the blankets and sets Lucy down.
“But,” she continues, “if he wants to be nice forever then you will get to see him.”
GM: “That’s right!” smiles Diana, still whispering as she runs a hand along the child’s hair. “We just wanna be sure he’s gonna be nice, and never make you sad, Luce.”
Celia: “And never make Momma or I sad, either. Happy is better.” Celia tucks Lucy in, smiling warmly down at her.
“Maybe if things go well we can all go for ice cream after dinner one night.”
“Get some sleep, Lady Goose. Mommy will tell you all about this tomorrow, I bet.”
Celia leans over to kiss her cheek.
“I love you, Lucy.” She reaches for Diana’s hand.
GM: “Ice cream’s nice,” smiles Lucy. “And you will, Mommy?”
“I will, Lady Goose,” nods Diana, squeezing Celia’s hand, and then Lucy’s too. “Promise.”
“Do I need to say my prayers again?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “It doesn’t hurt,” Celia says with a small smile for Lucy. “I’m sure He enjoys hearing from you more than once a day, baby.”
GM: “Can’t hurt,” Diana echoes. She takes Lucy’s hands, guides them into position, and bows her head with her daughter’s.
Celia: Celia presses her palms together and mimics the movement.
GM: “Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light.
Amen,” they both recite.
Jade remembers reciting it with Butterfly.
“I love you, Lucy,” Diana murmurs, tucking the girl in and kissing her head.
“Love you too, Mommy, Mommy,” Lucy says in apparent sequence to them both.
Celia: “Love you, baby. Sleep tight.”
Celia gives a tiny wave with her fingers and leads the way out of the room. Once the door is closed behind her she turns to look at her mom.
“What did you need to talk about?” she asks in a whisper.
GM: Diana turns on the nightlight, gives Lucy her favorite stuffed unicorn, and turns off the main light. She likewise gives a little wave and closes the door.
“Oh, it’s… nothin’ important, sweetie, not now,” Celia’s mom murmurs, looking away.
“I’m glad we spotted Luce.”
Celia: “Mom. It is important, but we only have so long before they come looking.”
GM: Diana shakes her head. “No, it… it really isn’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.”
Celia: “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here early. There was an incident last night I’ll tell you about later.” Celia hugs her mom. “We’ll share later then, okay?”
“What did… Michael say to you?”
GM: Her mom hugs her back. “Okay, sweetie! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to talk to you after dinner.”
She lowers her voice. “He, ah, told me he’s Stephen.”
Celia: “Nothing else?”
GM: “We talked about some other things, but that was the biggest thing,” her mom nods.
Celia: “How long has he been here?”
GM: “He showed up maybe fifteen minutes before your father? And he was about ten minutes early.” Her mom’s smile widens. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him over like this, that you two get to be together again!”
Celia: It’s not the time to dim the joy on her mother’s face. She just smiles back.
GM: “That is some disguise he has on, too.”
“I asked him how he did it, he just said not to worry about it.”
Celia: No doubt.
Celia resolves not to ask if he wants to play coy. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction.
“Guess we should get back out there before Emily stabs him again.”
Sunday evening, 20 March 2016
GM: The two head back to the living room. Maxen and Michael are chatting. Emily doesn’t look as if she’s having a particularly fun time.
“Well then, y’all ready to eat?” smiles Diana.
Celia: “I know I am.” Celia touches a hand to her stomach, as if it isn’t an organ she’d ripped out of a dead girl.
“Table set, or can I make myself useful?”
GM: “Ready and eager,” smiles Maxen. “I’ve missed your cooking, Diana.”
“I’ve missed cooking for you,” Diana smiles back.
“Table’s long set. We won’t hear of you havin’ to do any work here!” declares Celia’s mom.
Emily follows behind the others as they set off towards the dining room.
“He’s missed beating her black and blue, too,” she mutters.
Celia: Celia falls into step beside Emily.
“No more,” she murmurs. “No more women from this household will be beaten or abused. Never again.”
She is decidedly not looking at “Michael.”
But maybe she says it loudly enough for someone with above average senses to hear.
GM: If he does, he gives no sign.
“Tell me again why we’re even having this dinner?” Emily mutters.
Celia: So much has happened this week that Celia barely remembers anymore.
“So you could call him on his bullshit in front of Mom.”
It’s not Maxen that she regrets inviting to dinner, though. It’s the man wearing someone else’s face.
GM: “I hope that works.”
She lowers her voice even more.
“I think this was a mistake, Celia. I don’t think we should’ve invited him further into our lives like this.”
Celia: She’s starting to feel the same. There are a million and one things she wants to talk to Emily about right now, another million things she wants to say to Michael, but the walk to the dinner table is only so long.
How can she tell Emily that she thinks she fucked up? That not only was inviting Maxen into this home a mistake, but so is the “boyfriend” who has begun to abuse and belittle her. She’d been spot on earlier with her comment and now Celia doesn’t even know how to get out of it with anything resembling grace, and maybe she should have just given Camilla a doppelganger.
Celia reaches for Emily’s hand and gives a tiny nod. It’s there on her face: the realization that she had fucked up.
She doesn’t know if Bornemann had lied to her with the information about demons. She doesn’t know what longer game Maxen might be playing, and Camilla’s words—knowing something about her family—ring in her mind. Maybe he’s still possessed. She remembers her mother’s vision, how he takes Lucy away.
Celia steps past the dining room table and into the kitchen, moving to the pantry to get a container of salt. Her mother does enough cooking that she keeps plenty of them on hand for all her baking and flavoring needs. At a dollar per canister, why not? She tucks it into the folds of her dress and murmurs something about needing to use the restroom, then takes off down the hall to pour a line of salt in front of the door to Lucy’s room. It takes seconds. She flushes the toilet on her way back down the hall to give her story some plausibility and takes a moment to rinse and dry her hands. She tucks the salt beneath the sink.
Then she’s back, taking her seat with a smile as if nothing happened.
GM: Everyone sits down around the table as Diana heads into the kitchen after Celia to retrieve the food, but then Maxen gets up and volunteers to help. So do Michael, and then Emily, seemingly purely to dilute the impact of Maxen’s help.
Lucy’s door is closed when Celia returns to pour the salt, but the room to door to her mother’s bedroom is ajar.
The ‘other’ Lucy flies on the floor, glassy eyes silently staring towards Celia.
Celia: Celia stops to stare.
“How did you get here,” she whispers, but she doesn’t have time to find out.
“Diana isn’t ready,” Celia says to the doll. She steps inside the room to pick it up, setting it on the bed against the pillows. “Soon, okay?”
The porcelain Lucy gets a kiss on the brow before Celia turns to rejoin her family.
GM: The porcelain is cold under Celia’s lips.
The doll’s unblinking gaze bores relentlessly after her as she leaves.
Celia observes that Dani’s things are gone. The bedroom looks like it’s fully Diana’s again.
Celia: There aren’t enough hours in her night. Right now it feels like one thing after another and her lifelines are getting smaller and smaller.
Is this what her mom had wanted to talk about? Had Roderick moved her? Had someone else?
She hates not knowing. She hates being without her phone, being unable to send a text to check on Dani. They’d spoken earlier, of a sort. That means she’s okay, right?
All the same, Celia sets that anxiety aside to rejoin her family.
She doesn’t even want to ask in front of the guests. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that Roderick will blame her for losing Dani.
But she does, carrying the last of the dishes from the kitchen to the table next to her mother and asking in a quiet voice if Dani had found somewhere else to stay.
GM: Celia finds, to her chagrin, that the dinner’s other four attendees have carried everything out by the time she gets back, and are seated waiting for her.
Dinner is juicy-looking top loin steak, with a side dish of roasted vegetables: corn, mushrooms, yukon potato, asparagus, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes.
There’s also a fruit salad of mango, papaya, and kiwi with lime juice and mint.
Maxen and Michael have larger rectangular wooden plates to accommodate a larger portion of unsliced steak, and also have carving knives for their meat. Celia’s, Emily’s, and Diana’s plates are smaller, round, and ceramic. The smaller portions of steak are already pre-cut.
Celia: It looks delicious. In another life she would have enjoyed it, she’s sure.
The differences in serving size and method makes her lift a brow. Michael will find it as bland and tasteless as she does, she’s sure. Why waste the larger portion like that?
“Looks like somebody doesn’t trust us with a blade,” Celia stage-whispers to Emily.
GM: “Oh, it’s not that, sweetie,” Diana says embarrassedly. “It’s just that I already pre-cut some of the steak and I figured you girls wouldn’t want as much as the men. And it’s just nicer presentation, I thought, when you have that much steak, to leave some of it un-cut. And to let the big strong men cut apart theirs from a bigger haunch.” She smiles at the two.
“Real manly for the guys to cut apart a motionless piece of dead cattle,” Emily says dryly. “I guess those of us with vaginas aren’t up to that task.”
“It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with ‘manliness’,” says Michael. “Diana thought it was better presentation not to pre-slice all of the larger steak servings. And since men consume more calories on average than women, she gave us larger servings. Which makes sense considering the company. Maxen and I are larger than you and lead physically active lives.”
“Well I’m bigger than Mom and Celia, should I have gotten more steak?” says Emily.
Celia: “Yep,” Celia says, dumping a few pieces onto her plate. “There you go. Grow up big and strong like Mikey.”
“You know who would get the biggest piece? Robby.”
“Or maybe the Goose. I heard she plans to be seven feet tall. Gotta start ’em young.”
“Whole cow for Lucy, Mom.”
GM: “Personally I’m hopin’ she grows up the same size as you and me. That way we can all share clothes,” smiles Celia’s mom.
“This looks sublime, Diana,” smiles Maxen. “It smells sublime, too. Lucy and Emily are very lucky to eat this well every day.”
“Oh I’m so glad you think so, Maxen,” beams his ex-wife. “Would you like to lead us in prayer?”
Celia: Celia smiles at the thought of sharing clothes with Lucy and her mother, then looks to Maxen at the question.
GM: “How about I lead us in prayer, if my vagina doesn’t disqualify me?” says Emily.
Diana starts to say something, but Maxen merely inclines his head.
“We’re all equally small before Him. I’d be happy if you wanted to, Emily.”
“Right.” Emily clasps her hands together. “Good God, good grub, let’s eat. Amen.”
Celia: “Succinct,” Celia says dryly.
GM: “Amen,” says Diana, hands pressed as she bows her head lower.
“Amen,” repeats Maxen, doing the same.
“Amen,” says Michael with an amused look.
“It’s the thought that counts,” says Emily as she starts on one of Celia’s generously volunteered steak pieces. “And He sees all our thoughts, so.”
Celia: “Mm. The ultimate voyeur.” Celia spears a piece of steak with the tines of her fork. “Amen,” she tacks on belatedly. She lifts it to her mouth to bite, chew, swallow. It tastes as bland and awful as every other bite of food she’s ever tasted, like ash and sludge and what she imagines kissing a Nosferatu must taste like.
At least it’s over soon, sliding down her throat into her stolen stomach.
GM: Michael looks like he’s enjoying his about as much as Celia, but he smiles and compliments Celia’s mother. Emily doesn’t look like she’s particularly paying attention to the food’s taste, and Diana mostly looks like she’s watching her ex-husband. She’s seated him at the head of the table and herself at his right. Maxen enthusiastically compliments her cooking and she glows at the praise.
“I had a hunch steak would go over well,” she says mock-slyly.
Celia: Maybe it reminds Michael of the night Celia had invited a boy named Stephen to dinner to meet her father, and the way he had belittled her in front of her newly christened boyfriend. Or maybe it reminds Maxen of the time he’d made her stand in front of the stove for hours until she’d cooked the perfect steak. How he’d forced her to eat it, then make another one.
She’s quiet as her parents talk, looking down at her plate for a brief moment, then up at her… what, boyfriend? Abuser? She doesn’t even know anymore. There’s grief behind her eyes, wordless pain at the memories, at what should have been but isn’t. She wants nothing more than to take his hand and know that they’re in this together, that the boy she once loved is still inside, even if he’s hidden behind walls of anger and distrust right now.
Beneath the table, she reaches for his hand.
GM: Michael doesn’t seem to notice Celia’s action when Maxen remarks, “Michael was telling me about himself before you got here, Celia. You sound like you’ve picked a very successful man.” He smiles at his daughter.
Celia: Her fingertips brush across his knee instead. She lets the touch linger for a moment. Just in case.
“Yes,” she says with a tiny nod at Maxen, “but, I mean, there’s more to him than just that. Big heart.” She turns her eyes to Michael, offering a small smile.
GM: “Celia’s too kind,” smiles Michael.
“The heart counts for more than the success, I think,” says Maxen.
“I’d say they count equally,” says Michael. “Both are necessary to improve a family’s quality of life.”
Celia: Too kind. Too kind for saying he has a big heart.
It’s like a knife through her own, twisting, rending, tearing.
Because it isn’t true anymore. Because he doesn’t love her. Because he only wants to use her. Because he’s a Maxen waiting to happen, has every intention of hurting her until she breaks like Diana had, and he’s too useful to Savoy for her to do anything but take it.
Her eyes move to her plate. Mechanically, she spears another piece of steak with her fork. She bites. Chews. Swallows. It tastes like the ash she deserves, like broken promises and shattered hearts and ugly lies.
“If that’s the case, Dad, then why did you only focus on success when we were kids?”
Hollow heart, hollow voice, hollow eyes.
“Why did you think that your success made everything you did to me, to Mom, to the others okay?”
She hadn’t intended to bring it up. She’d thought maybe Emily would. That she’d play peacekeeper and avoid muddling the water so that she wouldn’t have to lie to her sire if he ever asked what happened.
But now she turns her gaze to her father, watching his face. She lets him see the agony on hers. She lets him see what the years of living with him had done, how her psyche had fractured, how her heart had hardened, how his own neighbor and master had used and abused her when she was still half a child. How she let her own boyfriend twist her words to humiliate and belittle her, how she turned into a weak woman who let a man put her on her knees because that’s what she experienced growing up.
“What if I told you that I grew up into someone who let her boyfriend or husband abuse her? What if I said Michael hits me? He’s successful, does that make it okay?”
GM: “I did a lot of wrong things when you and your siblings were kids, Celia,” her father says quietly.
He looks into her face. Into all of her pain. All of her fear. All of the hardness.
He lays his hand on her shoulder.
“I don’t think I have the moral authority to tell you what is and isn’t okay. But since you’ve asked me, I’d say no. No, it wouldn’t be okay if Michael hit you, no matter how successful he is. I’d say that would absolutely have to stop, for you to maintain any kind of relationship with him.”
“Oh, sweetie…” Diana murmurs. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter as she gets up from her seat to hug her daughter.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay… that’s all in the past… the future is better, the future is brighter…”
Emily watches silently.
“We all learn our behaviors from our parents,” says Michael, setting down his fork.
He gets up too, laying his own hand on Celia.
“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is the clinical term for it. I certainly hope Celia wouldn’t be okay receiving abuse like the kind her father committed against her mother.”
“But that’s a behavior learned from only one of her parents. And as bad as picking that up could seem… it could have been even worse. Celia could have become an abuser, too, like her father. Women can abuse men too, in more subtle ways. And combining that abuse with the behaviors Celia learned from her mother… she could have turned into an abuser as terrible as her father was—but one who saw herself as the victim. I can’t think of a more dangerous combination in any relationship. I think that would have driven her to a very sad and lonely life.”
He squeezes Celia’s shoulder and smiles down at her.
“I’m not going to say I thank God every night in my prayers that that didn’t happen. But I certainly have in more than one prayer. Celia could have turned into a black hole. A mindlessly destructive force screaming through space, ignorant of the pain it spawned. She could have sucked in all my light and destroyed me with her.”
His smile widens.
“But instead she’s turned into a sun. A force that brings warmth and life and beauty into everyone’s lives. We’re all here because of her. We’re all happy, because of her. And for all the darkness that’s been visited upon this family, I think it contains even more light.”
Celia: Celia lifts a hand to where he squeezes her shoulder. She looks up at him, searching his face for the truth. She finds it in the tightness around his eyes, the way his lips form the words, the very sound of his voice.
He’s lying through his teeth.
She rises, turning to face him fully, ignoring Diana and Emily and Maxen. She touches a hand to her heart, and then his, as if his words moved her. And they have. But the two of them both know there’s more to what he said than the syllables themselves. She steps forward, lifting her arms to put them around him, face pressed against his chest.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, just for him.
Her comment hadn’t even been about him. It had only been directed at her dad, at the damage he had done to her and the rest of them. But there was no way for him to know that. No way for him to see that she was doing more than just playing victim, that she really wanted her dad to think about what he’d done to the lot of them.
“I don’t know if Michael told you how we met,” she says to the table, turning slightly and taking her boyfriend’s hand, “but I was in bad shape. Mentally and emotionally. Burned out. Destructive. I never let you guys see it, but he did. He’s been working with me through everything. Helping me see things more clearly. It’s hard to change, and it’s painful sometimes, and it’s really easy to slip back into old patterns. But he’s been so patient, and I… I just really appreciate him for it.”
She looks once more to Michael, seeking his gaze with her own.
“Thank you. For understanding. For seeing me and not just my ways of being. I don’t mean to get emotional, I’m just… just so happy that you’re in my life and that we’re moving forward together.”
GM: “I am too, Celia,” Michael smiles back, squeezing her hand. “Moving forward is what counts. We can wallow in our past mistakes, or we can correct them and move forward. I know which I’d rather do.”
“I’m so happy for you two,” sniffs Diana. Her hand finds Maxen’s again.
“I am as well,” says Celia’s father, giving her mother’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve found a good man, Celia. I’m very impressed by him. By both of you.”
Emily just watches silently.
Celia: Correct them and move forward. Maybe no one else notices the way her fingers tighten around his, or the tiny tremble that runs down her spine at the word “correct.” But he’s right next to her, touching her, and she doesn’t hide the trepidation writ across her face when she looks up at him. She blinks once to tell him that she understands, and gives a tiny nod of agreement. They’ll move forward. She’ll lure in Gui and the two will move forward, and now that he knows everything they will be a team, and she can trust that he has her best interests at heart.
That’s what she wants, isn’t it? A partner? Someone she can ask for help?
Doubt clouds her mind. He hadn’t come last night. She’d needed him and he hadn’t come.
But she smiles, turning away to take her seat again.
Dinner has barely started and all she wants to do is run.
GM: “Oh, say, were you able to pick up juice at the store?” Michael asks as he sits back down.
Celia: “I was, yes. Only I got home and dropped one of the bags, just fell right out of my hands.” Celia uses her hands to tell the story, mimicking an explosion of glass and liquid. “All over the floor, all over me.” She gestures to the front of her, making a face as her hands pass her stomach. “Ruined my dress when it splashed up.” A tiny laugh. “We really need a new mop, feels like my shoulder fell off from trying to get it all off the floor. Good as new now, but I didn’t want to be late tonight and make anyone worry, so I planned to grab some on the way home to replace it.”
He gets it. Maybe.
It’s not like he’d given her a deadline, only told her that if she wants to spend the day with him again she needs to bring it.
“There was a spider,” she says with a little lift of her shoulders and color in her cheeks, as if that explains her wild story.
GM: “Oh, too bad your beau wasn’t there to squash it,” says Diana, wriggling her eyebrows. “I hate squishin’ bugs on my own. That’s what men are for!”
“That is what men are for,” Michael echoes in amusement.
“That is too bad, Celia. I would have squashed it for you.”
Celia: “Next time,” she says, but the private look she gives him asks if that’s true.
GM: He just smiles at her and spears a potato piece.
Celia: Celia looks away. There’s nothing left inside of him.
She should have let the Guard burn her.
GM: “I did hear about the spider, though,” says Michael. “Celia sent me some very scared texts.”
“Oh no, was it a really big one?” asks Diana.
“Smaller than I probably thought,” says Michael.
“She’s here now. Doesn’t look like it got her.”
“It is good to have man for that sort of thing,” says Maxen between a bite of steak. “But I’m glad she was able to get it on her own.”
“Yeah, I guess we’re pretty used to that in this family,” says Emily. “Having to take care of bad things on our own.”
She’s barely touched her food.
Maxen just inclines his head. “You are. All of you.”
“Is somethin’ wrong with the food, Emi?” asks their mom.
“No, nothing’s wrong with it, Mom,” says Emily. “I guess I just don’t have much appetite when there’s a wife-beating rapist child abuser in the room. I honestly cannot summon the will to eat.”
“Emi!” Diana exclaims.
Maxen bows his head. “Maybe this is too soon. I don’t want to intrude on this family or be the cause for missed meals. I can leave if I’m not welcome.”
“You’re not,” says Emily. She pushes out her chair and rises from her seat. “I think that’d be for the best. Door’s this way.”
Maxen pushes out his chair and rises with her.
“No! Max, stay. Please. I’d like to have dinner with you.” Diana takes his hand again but doesn’t rise from her seat.
Celia: Celia silently watches her family argue, biting her tongue to keep from interceding. Maxen seems sincere enough about going if that’s what Emily wants, but Emily… she thought they’d agreed. One dinner. She’d even brought “backup” in case Maxen tries anything.
She uses the cover of Emily and Maxen’s motion to reach for the salt shaker, flicking her wrist to pour a small amount of it into her palm. Then she, too, rises to look between the pair.
“Dad, I’m sorry, I think she might be right. I think I rushed this before everyone was ready. I think there’s a lot of unhealed trauma coming up for everyone and stepping into this idea of ‘family’ without giving Emily, Mom, and I the proper time might be doing all of us a disservice.”
Celia bites her lip. She looks to her mom, then Michael, and finally back to her dad.
“I think it might be like using a rug to cover a hole in the floor. I’d like to meet you in the middle, if that’s okay. You and I working through some things. Dinner, maybe. With the boys, if they want, and with Michael if he wants to lend support as well. Sometime this week, maybe.”
GM: “I think that sounds more than reasonable,” says Maxen. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen David, hasn’t it? And had dinner with Logan too.”
“Michael would also be welcome to have dinner with us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Flores. That would be my pleasure,” says Michael.
Celia’s attempt to pour salt unnoticed, however, goes horribly awry.
The Toreador’s preternaturally quick grasp is too swift. The lid, clearly not securely attached, flies off. It hits Maxen’s glass of non-alcoholic wine. Drink spills over his shirt and pants as the glass shatters over the floor.
“Oh, no, Max!” exclaims Diana.
Salt is spilled all over the table, too.
“Sorry,” she blurts, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Mike, can you grab some paper towels? In the kitchen?” She’s already moving to clean up the glass so that no one else risks a cut.
GM: “It’s okay, sweetie. Accidents happen,” smiles Celia’s dad. “Where’s the broom and dustpan?” he asks her mom, who’s already dabbing at the stains on his clothes with a napkin.
“In the closet. But nonsense, you’re a guest!” says Diana.
Maxen rises. “Please. You’ve already gone to so much trouble making this lovely dinner. May I?”
“Forget it, I’ll do it,” says Emily, already rising.
“Sweetie, you don’t need to be so contrary,” says Diana. Someone else might glare, but she sounds more like she’s chiding.
Michael rises and heads for the kitchen.
Celia: Celia ignores the bickering. She focuses on getting the large shards of glass off the floor, then uses a napkin to start scooping up the smaller pieces.
“Hey Emi, broom?”
GM: Maxen joins her on the ground, using his own napkin to help pick up glass pieces. “We can shine a light over the floor, when we’ve got all the pieces we can see. It’s so easy to miss little shards.”
Celia: “I’ve got it, Dad.”
GM: Emily strides back with the broom.
“Yeah. We’ve got it. Butt out.”
Maxen inclines his head and sets down the napkin with the few shards he picked up.
“I’m sorry. I was only trying to hel-”
“We don’t want your fucking help!”
“Emi, you’re being rude!” exclaims their mom.
“You know what’s rude, Mom? Raping someone! He fucking raped you!” Emily is getting red in the face.
Celia: Celia takes the broom and starts sweeping. She’s focused on the glass, on getting it all up, on not having any accidents this evening that she’ll need to explain. Smart, she thinks, to send Michael into the kitchen, an excuse to get away. Right? That’s smart. Just in case.
“Emily,” Celia cuts in, “he’s leaving. Okay? He’s going. I made a mess and it derailed his plan to leave but he’s going.”
GM: Michael is swiftly back with the paper towels.
“No! I’m going to at least get the stain out of his shirt!” says Diana. Her cheeks are flushing too at Emily’s description, but she doesn’t otherwise respond.
Celia: “It’s red wine, Mom,” Celia says gently. “It’s not coming out. I’ll get him a new one, okay?” Celia takes the paper towels from Michael with a nod of thanks and looks to her father, sizing him up. “16 neck, 42 chest?” she asks him.
GM: “Sweetie, if you want to pick up glass, it’s not my house. But I’m going to draw the line at my children buying me clothes outside of Christmas and birthdays,” Maxen chuckles. “It’s fine, I have plenty others. And I think my presence might be causing more harm than good right now, so I’ll take off.” He turns to his ex-wife. “Thank you for the lovely dinner.”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says again, rising from the floor with the wet paper towel in hand. She sets it aside. “I’ll walk you out.”
GM: Emily and Michael are busy cleaning up on the floor.
“No! You and Emi are just—you keep—” Diana exclaims flusteredly, still red in the cheeks. “I guess NO ONE is going to enjoy this dinner now! I spent a lot of time on it!”
“Put it in the oven again at low heat,” Maxen says gently. “It’ll be as good as fresh out.”
“You said you wanted to talk about Isabel! I don’t want to put that off because, because-!” Diana makes an exasperated gesture behind her.
“He doesn’t have anything to say about Isabel, Mom,” preempts Emily. “It’s been almost a decade since she was in touch.”
“Well you’re wrong about that, I know she talks to Logan!” retorts Diana, crossing her arms. “And I know he’s worried about her!”
Celia: “He is,” Celia quietly admits. “He’s spoken to me about it.”
GM: “I want to hear this, Max!” says Diana. “Do you have news about her?”
Celia: “Why don’t I see if he’s left a shirt here you can wear, Dad, and you and Mom can talk, and Emily and I will sit in the other room until you’re done. Michael, it’s up to you if you want to stick around, I’m sorry things got out of hand.”
GM: “Are you joking? I don’t want to leave him alone in a room with her,” says Emily.
“For goodness’ sake, Emily!” Diana exclaims in exasperation.
Michael just nods, but doesn’t move to leave or speak over the quarreling family.
Celia: “The room has a giant open door,” Celia says, gesturing to the living room that is, indeed, not hidden behind a tiny door or opening. It’s one large open area. “You’ll see them the whole time. You’ll even be able to hear them. But you don’t have to interact. Okay?”
Celia takes a step away.
“I’m going to find a shirt. Mike, do you want to..?” She makes a vague gesture about coming with her.
GM: “I don’t have any shirts of Logan’s, sweetie,” says her mom. “I gave them back since you were last here. And we don’t have any clothes in your father’s size.”
“It’s all right,” says Maxen. “I’m going to drive straight home.”
“I want to hear about Isabel,” says Diana. “Please.” She kneels to help with the glass as well.
Celia: “Mom, stop, I’ve got the glass. You two sit. Eat. Emily, other room. Take your plate if you want.” Celia resumes cleaning.
GM: “I’m fine staying, thanks,” says Emily.
“Sweetie, nonsense, you don’t need to clean this all up by yourself,” says Diana.
Celia: Celia gives her mother a look.
A very frank look.
A very frank “yes I do and you know why” look.
“Sit, Mom,” she says gently, “it’s almost done anyway.”
GM: “…all right,” says Diana. “If you’re sure.”
Emily looks at her for a moment.
Celia: She finishes cleaning. Once the glass is up there’s just the wine to get, and with paper towels soaking up most of it there’s not much else to be done. She sweeps the rest of the glass off the floor and into the dustbin, then comes back with a wet paper towel to get rid of the wine.
GM: Michael continues to help with the glass and cleanup, but otherwise doesn’t interrupt the family.
Diana looks like she feels bad about him cleaning, but doesn’t press.
“So, Isabel?” she asks her ex, leaning forward.
“Logan and I have not been able to get ahold of her for close to two weeks now. That’s not unusual, in of itself. Internet service isn’t always reliable where she is. This isn’t even the longest we haven’t heard from her.”
Emily looks confused by the ‘and I’, but doesn’t butt in.
“But…” says Diana.
“But,” grants Maxen, “she sounded in a very bad place, when she last spoke with us. Her boyfriend had gone missing, as you know-”
“Yes, Evan, that very nice boy,” Diana nods.
Celia: Celia keeps her head down while they talk, working on getting the worst of the spill off the floor. She glances at Michael as he assists, pain in her eyes, and touches the back of his hand.
GM: Michael just gives her an unimpressed look.
Maxen nods again. “And she’s been in touch more regularly, since he disappeared. And she usually gives a heads up, too, when she can’t talk for a while.”
“So you think something’s happened?” asks Diana. “I know it’s very dangerous, where she is.”
Celia: Celia withdraws the touch. She retreats inside of herself, where he can’t hurt her, and her face shutters. She moves to the kitchen to dispose of everything, though she can still hear the words of her parents.
She’s back a moment later.
GM: Everyone has seated themselves again, though no one is eating.
“It is,” says Maxen. “So, Logan and I assumed the worst. And we tried to get in touch with the group she’s doing missionary work with.”
“And that’s when we realized… we didn’t know the group. She never told us.”
“I thought he sent her to a mission,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.
Maxen shakes his head. “Isabel chose to do that on her own.”
“So, anyway. Logan and I called a bunch of different organizations, and I got some of my staffers to help out too.”
“And we didn’t find anything for an Isabel Flores.”
Diana looks worried, but doesn’t interject.
“So I brought in help with some private detectives. Logan and I agreed that we should at least know what mission she’s with, in case… in case of a situation like this.”
Celia: “Are you sure she’s with a mission?” Celia interjects. “She had it rough here. What if she just… moved away? Started fresh?”
GM: “Positive,” says Maxen. “She kept Logan and I updated about a lot of things. She said pretty recently that she was still doing missionary work.”
“But that idea did occur to the detectives, actually.”
“One of them suggested that maybe she had dropped out or moved on, and was still telling us she was doing missionary work. He said she might’ve not wanted to tell us, not been sure how to tell us, and just gone on saying she was still a missionary for a million possible reasons.”
Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s possible.
GM: “He said that he’s seen people do things like that a lot of times. But he did think it was likely she’d at least started with the mission, even if she dropped out later. Because it would’ve given her initial direction, room and board, plane ticket out of the States, et cetera. Not required her to make as many decisions. She was still very young and upset.”
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges, “but not… I mean, it could be that she just said that and went another way, to throw you off of her tail. You were…” Celia looks down, “Dad, you weren’t always the best father, if I were going to run I’d say something like that too. So no one could find me.”
GM: “That’s possible,” says Maxen. “I told them about the circumstances she left under.”
“I didn’t know if it would help or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.”
“They said that would help.”
“Because they weren’t able to find anything with any missions.”
“Anything?” asks Diana. “Weren’t there, I don’t know, records?”
“So they started at our family churches,” says Maxen. “Mine and the one you, your mother, and sister all go to. Because they figured that’s where a scared and directionless teen would go, a familiar church, rather than a stranger’s.”
“They interviewed priests, staff, people who were around in 2009. They looked into partnered missionary organizations and visited their headquarters in the city.”
Diana looks no less worried.
“Maybe she went with another one, or just didn’t go…?”
“They’re still looking into some other missionary organizations,” Maxen nods, “though they don’t expect much to come of it. They think Isabel might never have worked at one.”
“But why would she lie?” frowns Diana.
“Well, like Celia said,” says Maxen.
“She wanted to escape and throw me off her trail.”
“But to keep up the lie for almost ten years…?” says Diana, frowning even deeper.
“Yes, that’s the thing they found strange. Because we shared our texts with them,” says Maxen.
“They also asked Logan and me a lot of questions.”
“And Isabel spoke at considerable length about the religious work she was doing.”
“I could hear the pride in her voice.”
“She gave a lot of details. We talked about God all the time.”
“She said doing His work was the most fulfilling thing she’d ever done. That this was her life’s work, now.”
“I speak with my share of people who are, I might put it, less than sincere in their faith. That unfortunately comes up in politics.”
“Isabel sounded to me like a true believer.”
“The PIs thought so too.”
“So… why couldn’t they find anything at church, then…?” Diana asks puzzledly.
Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst. There are a lot of churches in the city, a lot in the state. She went to Liberty, maybe she met someone up there, fell in with a different crowd.”
GM: “Isabel never went to Liberty,” says Maxen.
Celia: Celia looks to him.
GM: “Yes, Logan said she did…” starts Diana.
She looks even more worried, now.
“She didn’t,” says Maxen. “We had no contact after she left. I know her college fund was never used.”
Celia: Celia stares.
Is he not going to say?
Is he not going to own up to what he did to her, how he kept her in a cage?
GM: Is that better or worse than killing her?
“The PIs talked to the people at Liberty,” says Maxen. “They thought maybe she took out loans, got a scholarship, or otherwise paid her own way through school.”
“Colleges keep records of all students they’ve ever had, obviously.”
“Liberty had nothing for an Isabel Flores.”
“Though they did have an application she filed back in high school.”
“Now, there is one other thing.”
Celia: “What about another college? Somewhere else? Maybe she just said Liberty because you wouldn’t accept another school…?”
GM: “Isabel didn’t leave New Orleans immediately, after… after the alleged tape was circulated. I know that for a fact.”
“She was still in the city for the better part of a year.”
Celia: Celia doesn’t dare glance at Michael, at Emily, at her mother. She keeps her eyes on her father’s face.
GM: “Well, what was she doing?” asks Diana. She still has that same puzzled tone.
“She was staying at home, where I was continuing to abuse her,” says Maxen.
Celia: She hadn’t thought he’d say it.
Not like that.
Not so frankly.
She swallows, taking a step back as if reeling, watching his face as the words leave his mouth. At her side her fingers curl into fists.
GM: “Oh,” says Diana.
Emily and Michael don’t say anything.
Celia: “Tell us,” says Celia. “Tell us what you did to her.”
GM: “I don’t want to hear that,” says Diana, shaking her head.
“I think he should tell us,” says Emily. “I think he should tell us everything. What was she doing, at home, for the better part of a year, Maxen? Because Logan and the others all said she disappeared. They said she was off at-”
“Emily, stop it!” snaps Diana.
Celia: “Did they know?” Celia asks quietly. “Logan, David, Soph? Did they know she was with you?”
“Did they do nothing?”
GM: “Your brothers and sisters aren’t at fault there,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell them.”
“That makes no sense,” says Emily. “She was at home, but they didn’t know? What, were you keeping her locked in her room? And isn’t that funny, coming right after that-”
“STOP IT!” yells Diana, standing up from her seat. Her face is red now, but not from embarrassment.
“I have not spoken to my daughter in almost ten years! This is not the time to drag up the past! Not now! Do it later! I want to know, Maxen, and I want to know right now: where is our daughter? Has something happened to her? Are we going to see her again?”
Diana’s voice is choked and breathless. Fear is naked and plain in her eyes.
“We don’t know,” Maxen answers quietly. “She’s now a missing person.”
“It’s possible something bad has happened. We don’t know. But the detectives think something might have.”
“They are still looking.”
Celia: Celia retreats further into herself. She knows what happened. Isabel is dead. Isabel is dead and it’s her fault. Isabel is dead and she could have prevented it and she didn’t, because she was petty and jealous and insecure and now she gets to watch it rip her family apart, rip her mother apart.
Her lip trembles, fingers flexing at her sides, and she blinks rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes before it has a chance to turn into tears. She doesn’t look at anyone. Her gaze stays focused on the ground, hatred and self-loathing in her heart.
GM: Her last sight as she looks away is of her mother sitting down and burying her face against Maxen’s chest.
She sounds like she’s softly crying.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to find her, Diana,” says Maxen. He must have his arms around her. That’s what you do with the mother of your child when she’s crying. The woman’s low sniffs continue to sound. “Dead or alive. I am going to find her. I am going to bring her back to us and back to you.”
“Oh… Isabel…” Diana moans. Her voice is muffled.
Celia: Celia presses her hands to her face. She turns, blindly stepping into the kitchen while her mother’s sobs tear her apart. She doesn’t look for comfort from Michael. She doesn’t think about intruding on this family moment when she has been the cause of so much pain. She silently slips away to let the tears fall.
She’d done this.
All of it.
It’s all her fault.
And there’s no way she can fix it now.
No way to bring her back.
Bornemann had been clear. Final death is final.
GM: She hears footsteps following after her.
Then she feels strong arms encircling her.
Holding her close.
Against a man’s taller frame.
She feels a head brush against hers, and Roderick’s voice breathe in her ear:
“It’s your fault.”
“I told you, didn’t I, that you were a black hole?”
Celia: He doesn’t even know the worst of it.
The words break her all the same. Any control she thought she had slips away; he kicks her while she’s down and it’s all she can do to remain upright, to stay tucked against him, to keep from fleeing into the night so she can find something dangerous to throw herself against.
His words break her. She sobs silently. Her shoulders don’t need to shake. She doesn’t need to breathe. But she sobs all the same, tears leaking from her eyes and down her cheeks, caught by her own hands.
Blood on her fingers. Red-handed. Her fault.
She only nods.
GM: His hands drop from her sides. He pulls her away, then grips her head so he stares directly into her face.
“Madly careening through space, though black holes don’t actually move, blacker than the void. Destroying everything it comes into contact with, sucking away all life and light down an inescapable void.”
“Crying the whole time, like you’re the victim.”
“Your mother, brothers, and sisters are the victims, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.
“These are crocodile tears.”
“They’re disgusting and pathetic, and they score no sympathy points, not with people who know who you are.”
“Truth always comes out.”
Celia: Every single one of his words slam into her like a physical blow.
The tears stop. Dead eyes stare at him when he captures her head in his hands.
She only nods again.
GM: “I told you this would happen. That your family wasn’t going to let this go.”
“But you were too selfish and too stupid to listen.”
Celia: Celia yanks away.
“Get out,” she says in a low voice.
GM: His grip only tightens, holding her firmly in place.
“You’ve never cared about anything beyond yourself, not really. You literally can’t consider it. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known. I finally see you past all the makeup, Celia. Past the superficial prettiness that washes away like so much filth under the sink.”
“When you cheated on me, you never really apologized, did you? No, you always justified it, and broke down in weeping histrionics when your lies were finally exposed. It wasn’t about me. It was about you. How scared you were of losing our relationship. How justified you were to do what you did. How unfair everything all was to you. You, you, you. You didn’t care you hurt me. You were never sorry for what you did. You don’t care about your family, either. You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life, and you cry victim the whole time. You’re a monster in denial that it’s even a monster. That’s what makes your act so convincing.”
“But lying is what you do best, isn’t it? You lie to yourself, too. Not just everyone else.”
“How does it feel to look at the truth, Celia? How does it feel to hear what you really are? Not even your family knows the real Celia, not like I do.”
Celia: That’s what she’d wanted to do this evening.
To talk to him about him. To apologize. To start to move past it. To have a conversation that doesn’t result in anger or tears. To speak softly, kindly, to give him the gift she’s been sitting on for years, to tell him that she knows she messed up, that she’s… that she’s sorry. About everything. About not trusting, about cheating, about lying, about all the times she had hurt him. To ask how else she could make it up to him.
Like everything else in her Requiem, it had been ruined.
“Awful,” she says, voice hollow. Her tears cease. They hadn’t been for her, they’d been for her family, but she doesn’t tell him that. It doesn’t matter. “It feels awful to know what I’ve become. It feels awful to know that my truth is ugly, selfish, evil. It’s awful, Michael. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”
She wishes they had kept her. That they’d burn her tonight. But she doesn’t say this, doesn’t tell him about her death wish, doesn’t even say it’s something that had been on the table.
He won’t care.
“I’m supposed to see Gui tonight. I’ll set the new date with him when I do. I’ll make sure it has nothing to do with either one of us. I’ll find out who sired Dani when I meet him as well. I’ll have the name for you tonight. I’ll have the blood for you this evening. All of it. You don’t have to let me stay, just let me know where to drop it off. I’ll make arrangements with Duke, as you asked. And I’ll fix this situation with my family. You were right. I should have already done it. I put it off. I was selfish and… and stupid.”
She stumbles over the word but gets it out.
“I can go now. I’ll go now to meet him, and set the date. Or part of the juice now, if you want it. My mother won’t mind a missing container. Then I’ll say bye. And I’ll go. And I’ll do as you said. Everything you said.”
GM: Roderick folds his arms.
“I guess you’d better get started, Celia.”
“I’ll only believe it when I see it.”
Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to him, even though she knows it doesn’t mean anything. She moves past him, reaching under a cabinet for a glass jar. Her mother prefers them to plastic. Less waste, she says, and Celia is glad for the twist off top. She glances into the dining room to make sure the humans are still occupied.
It’s a risk, even if they are. She steps out the back door, into the little space between Emily’s carriage house and Diana’s main house, and bites into her wrist.
She lets the blood flow.
Her Beast is not pleased. It hates the way she snivels and cowers before this lesser predator. Physically superior he may be, but he is nothing save a crying worm compared to her.
Oh no, my sire lied to me.
Oh no, my girlfriend cheated on me.
Oh no, I’m a sad pathetic sap.
It hates him. And it seethes when the girl wants to give the blood to him. It seethes as she takes from herself to give it up to this pathetic waste of Blood. Smart? Sure. But naïve. Without hiding behind his sire’s skirts he wouldn’t be long for this world.
He’s a spoiled childe playing at pretend.
Celia hisses as her fangs split her skin, hisses again when her Beast makes its displeasure known. One hit. Two. A third. Her Beast hates with every drop, seething inside of her. Claws rip into her stomach, so much worse than what Camilla had done to her last night, so much worse than the burns or the saw.
She’s choosing this. Playing victim again. Letting him control her.
And for what? What benefit has she gotten from this?
The blood flows. She fills the cup. Three hits, only part of what she owes, but the container can’t take anymore. A flick of her tongue across her wrist closes the wound. She steps back inside, grabbing a plastic bag from her mother’s pantry to wrap around the jar, and offers it to Michael.
GM: He accepts it without a word.
Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you want to come with me to meet him tonight we might be able to create an opportunity to jump him. You already have a different face. Otherwise I will… I’ll see you later, with the rest of everything.”
GM: “Get going, Celia,” is all he says.
“You may contact me when you have substantive progress to report.”
Celia: “Yes, sir.”
Sir. It slips out of her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She only bows her head and turns to go, making her excuses to her family.
“One of my clients has connections overseas,” she says, and it’s even true. “If she’s not in the States, he can start looking. I’m going to see him now to tell him about it. I also have police contacts I can pull on, and a PI friend myself.”
Celia hugs her mom.
“I’ll stop by later. Let me take care of these things while everyone is still awake. Dad, I’ll walk you out.”
GM: Michael follows her out. Celia finds her parents’ chairs still pulled up next to each other. Her mom is leaning against her dad’s shoulder, who has his arms around her. Her eyes are red from crying. Dinner looks untouched.
Diana returns Celia’s hug with one arm, but sniffs and shakes her head at her daughter’s last words.
“No. He’s staying.”
“Those sound like great ideas, Celia,” says her dad. “The more people we have looking, the better.”
Celia: Celia only nods.
“Then I’ll see you both later.”
GM: “See you,” says Emily. Her voice doesn’t sound at all irate. She’s still seated where she is, arms folded, watching Maxen and Diana.
Her face doesn’t look mad anymore, either.
She doesn’t once look away from the two.
Dinner looks untouched.
“I’m so sorry you had to see all of this, Michael,” Celia’s mom says in embarrassment.
“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Celia’s already shown me a lot of herself.”
Celia: She feels better knowing that Emily is looking out for them. That she’d protected Lucy from a demon entering through the door, at least.
“I’m picking up a phone first. Call me if you need anything.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie,” says her dad. “I was going to order you one online. I can have it delivered overnight. Is that fast enough?”
Celia: “Doesn’t hurt. I’ll grab a cheap thing in the meantime so you guys can reach me.” Most stores sell bullshit phones for a hundred bucks.
GM: “Sounds like a plan. What’s the address I should have it delivered to?”
“You gonna be back tonight?” asks Emily.
Celia: Celia tells him to send it to the spa. She gets most of her mail there anyway.
GM: Maxen nods and says he’ll send it there.
“I dunno how many stores will still be open this hour on a Sunday,” says Emily.
Celia: It’s not even nine.
“Herrick’s. Any other big box retailer. I’ll find something. Or borrow one.”
GM: Emily pulls out her own phone.
“The nearby Herrick’s is already closed, but there’s one in Gentilly open until 10 and one in Algiers open to 11. 20 minute drive. You need the address?”
Celia: “Sure. Gentilly. Unless you just want to let me borrow your phone, Ma. I can log into my account from there.”
GM: “Oh, feel free,” says her mom. “It’s… where I’d leave it…”
“You can borrow mine if you want,” says Emily.
“Oh, it’s in my bedroom, sweetie. Whichever you’d like.”
“They’re both Solarises, so.”
Celia: “I don’t need to see Robby sending you nudes,” Celia says to Emily with a wink. She moves down the hall to Diana’s bedroom to find the phone, looking for Lucy when she gets there.
GM: “You wish,” says Emily, though her heart doesn’t sound like it’s in the banter. She still has half an eye on their mother and Maxen.
The doll is lying on the ground by the door. The porcelain face is utterly still. The doll’s unblinking eyes bore into Celia’s.
She finds her mother’s phone on the bedside table. There’s a pattern unlock.
Celia: “Lucy,” Celia whispers to the doll, “I put you on the bed. Why are you here?” She picks up the doll and the phone, putting the doll into her purse. Only the doll doesn’t fit. It’s too big, even for the practical bag Celia had worn tonight. The entire head sticks out.
“When I come back tonight,” she tells Lucy, “I’ll merge you, okay? I love you. I love Diana. Just bear with me for a while so she doesn’t scream when she sees you.”
Celia reaches for the doll with that gift Benson had given her, the one that can transform anything she holds into a doll and a doll into anything else. Scarf, she thinks, and the doll’s form blurs into a scarf that trails from her purse. Celia keeps her tucked inside as best she can.
Then she’s back to the living room, asking her mother for the pattern unlock so she can get into it.
GM: The doll offers no response or explanation as Celia picks it up.
Then Celia doesn’t have a doll, but a scarf. At least as far as her mother can see.
Diana takes the phone and shows her daughter the pattern to trace.
Celia: “Appreciate it, Mom. I’ll bring it back in a bit. I love you.”
GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mom sniffs, hugging her again. “I’m so glad to have you here, right now. Just so glad.”
Her father and Emily echo both of those sentiments.
Celia: She shouldn’t be. But Celia doesn’t say. She just smiles, kisses her mom on the cheek, and gets going.