“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”
Wednesday afternoon, 9 March 2016
GM: After Caroline has finished seeing to her varied affairs for the night, there is no further word from her sire. Kâmil advises that Caroline return to Perdido House to spend the day: he is not certain if the Giani Building is secure given the recent car bomb found in the garage. More assassination attempts may be forthcoming. Roger Ferris agrees with this latter assessment, but remains slow to recommend Perdido House as a haven. Its security might be par none, but there are so many other Kindred with access to the building. The ex-CIA agent does not trust what he cannot control.
Another option, however, just as readily presents itself in the Walter Robinson House. It’s about an hour before sunrise when a sleepy-looping Cécilia clad in slippers and a sleeping robe has Caroline over to talk about the night’s events “in person” and readily suggests she spend the day. After all, she’ll be able to stay awake and use the time productively, even if she can’t venture beyond the house. And where security is concerned, Caroline’s sister replies,
“Maman has put much of herself into this place. There is power here, even if she isn’t present—or perhaps better said, if her body isn’t present. Any night-folk who know what this place is would not invade it casually. And if she absolutely has to, if something truly dangerous follows you here, she can still rouse herself. It’s just likely to be her last act with that body.”
The day passes. Caroline’s younger sisters are getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the house, even spacious as it is, but Cécilia says that “should be over with soon. Maman says she’s found ‘another means’ to create a body.” The two spend much of their time in Cécilia’s home office getting work done as the sun passes overhead.
“By the way, I rescheduled Simmone’s dance lesson for this evening,” Cécilia says after hanging up on a phone call. “I’ve been in touch with Autumn, who said she’s bringing over her younger sister, and Simmone’s teacher said she could bring over her granddaughter, who’s six. She also had the idea to invite her daughter, who runs a salon/spa in the Quarter. She’s actually a friend of mine, Celia Flores. You might know her through your dads. Anyway, Mrs. Flores suggested that Celia could bring over a mini spa kit to pamper the girls and do their faces before the lesson. I thought that sounded like a really good way to add some variety to Simmone’s routine and get her socializing with people outside of the family. Would you like to stick around for any of it?”
Caroline: The Flores name sends a shiver of memory down Caroline’s spine. Not an especially pleasant one, but she smooths it out alongside the rest of Cécilia’s news.
Celia Flores, running a spa. Well, there could have been a worse fate for the daughter who cried wolf. Even when the wolf was real. She didn’t believe for a moment the denials over the tapes that came out. She knew too much about the ‘evidence’ created to discredit them.
“I’m glad Autumn was able to make it work,” she tells her sister. “I met Celia years ago, and again a few years later at Tulane, but we didn’t keep in touch. She seemed…”
There’s a momentary pause. ‘Nice enough’ doesn’t really seem to fit with the girl that asked her to teach her how to shoot. Presumably her own father.
“…pleasant. And I think you’re right that breaking the routine a bit and introducing new people will be good for Simmone.”
GM: “I’m glad you think so. Celia and I went to McGehee together. She was one of the only people who wasn’t talking behind my back, after that whole business with Elliot.”
“We’ve kept in touch since then. It’s a really nice spa that she has. I’m going to get my hair and makeup done there for the wedding.”
Caroline: “Of course I’ll stay to watch.” Her Requiem is increasingly crowded by competing demands, but for her sisters she’ll find time. Especially with her mother so exhausted. She’ll always find a way to make time. Like today. Her gratitude for the ability to fill the daily hours with her sisters is beyond measure.
GM: “Great,” smiles Cécilia. “I always felt so bad for Celia and her family. They went through so much.”
“I’m sure you know all about that scandal back in 2009. It was completely real. She came to me for help and I tried to place the family in a women’s shelter.”
“They ended up not needing that, and I guess things turned out okay for them. But I still feel like there’s more I could have done.”
Caroline: The bottom falls out of Caroline’s stomach. But she doesn’t lie to her sister. Hasn’t, and won’t start now.
She nods. “I know.”
She hadn’t looked up the videos. Hadn’t wanted to. The descriptions were bad terrible enough.
“My father had a role in covering up the whole thing.” A beat. “I helped.”
GM: Cécilia squeezes Caroline’s hand. “You were just in college. It was going to happen, with or without you.”
“I’m sure you’ve felt bad about that. But there’s nothing you could have done. You just wanted to be a good daughter to your father.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Mostly without, to hear my father speak of it. He was bitterly disappointed with my ‘failures’ there. Looking back… that incident really changed a lot of things for me. Might have been the moment that I moved from beneficiary of the family’s wickedness to active participant.”
She looks at her sister. “We all make our choices. I don’t know that they’re wrong. If I hadn’t gone down that route a lot of things would have been different. A lot of them for the worse. At the end of the night I have a place, a purpose, and a family. I can’t say it didn’t work out for me, or that I wouldn’t do it again. It sounds like she landed on her feet though, and I’m happy for that too.”
GM: Cécilia nods. “She’s running her own business. She and her mom are raising her daughter together. While I’m sure they’d have preferred some kind of justice for their father and ex, their lives seem pretty comfortable.”
Caroline: “She has a daughter?”
That’s something Caroline hadn’t heard. Or maybe hadn’t wanted to. She does some math.
“She isn’t from…”
GM: “I’m not sure who the father is. He didn’t seem in the picture and it didn’t feel polite to ask.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or any business, really.”
GM: Cécilia said the girl was six. That means Celia would’ve been around 20 when she had the baby.
“I think she’s mostly being raised by Celia’s mother. I can’t imagine it would’ve been easy to start a salon business with a baby to also take care of.”
“That’s how it seemed, anyways. When I told Mrs. Flores we wanted some other children around for the dance lesson, she brought up her granddaughter, and said that it would be convenient not to have to arrange childcare.”
Caroline: Her thoughts linger on Celia’s child. Maxen raped his daughters. Caroline knows it’s true. The thought of carrying her father’s rape baby to term brings repulsively conflicted thoughts to Caroline’s mind.
She hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father, not really, but Freud had not completely missed the mark with the Electra complex. She’d always wanted his approval, his attention, at almost any cost. It isn’t so difficult to imagine a twisted world in which a more predatory version of her father could do something like that. In which she, being young, could have gone along with such a depraved act.
Still, she hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father. The thought of it is nauseating.
Her sire, on the other hand… her sire, so much like her father in his grim distance, weighty responsibilities, and dire expectations. Her sire, who she most certainly does wish would sink his fangs into her throat, who she wants to hold her, to take her utterly… who she’d kill to stir from his grim throne to some kind of passion. The mental image of him, his marble-like skin against her own, his vice-like grip upon her flesh, rises with little provocation so readily… she still remembers the taste of his vitae when he presented his wrist to her, the fire that flowed into her. The same fire that had given rise to her Requiem, had filled and created her…
She releases Cécilia’s hand, realizing how tightly she was holding it, and runs her tongue across her fangs.
There’s no use in daydreaming about that, no matter how it might haunt her thoughts.
GM: Her sister seems to study her. She doesn’t ask if Caroline is okay. They seem past that. It seems like she already knows.
She doesn’t ask Caroline to let go of her hand, either. She just waits for a moment, then says, “You’re everything he could ask for in a childe.”
“I don’t know him, or how much he’s like your father, but I do know you. If he doesn’t think of you as everything he could have hoped for, then no childe could possibly make him happy.”
“And… Maman tells me there’s nothing improper about it, for sires to have romantic relationships with their childer. She says that not all of them choose to do so, but that it isn’t taboo, like it is between parents and children.”
“I don’t know if you want to act on those feelings, but they’re nothing to be ashamed about.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles as Cécilia parses her way through her thoughts. She sets a shaking hand down on the desk in front of her and waits a moment until it goes still.
She knows it’s the bond. Intellectually, at least. Knows that it’s inescapable. She’s less clear where it starts and where it ends—can she really lie and claim she wouldn’t have been attracted to her sire without it—but she ‘knows’ it’s twisting her thoughts.
Whoever said knowing was half the battle though was dead wrong. There is no battle, not any more than the shore can battle the beating of the waves. It just withstands it. And so does she. The quivering hand finally goes still.
“He accepted me. That’s more than I could have hoped for. More than I think anyone else could have achieved. The rest is…” She rolls her eyes, mostly in frustration. “Unavoidable. He wouldn’t lower himself like that.” No matter how much she might want it.
The heiress shakes her head, blonde hair spilling out.
“Maybe I just need to find someone to… work out that frustration with.” She amends halfway through with a knowing look. “Later.”
GM: “Later,” Cécilia agrees. “But not too much later. You might have forever, but it’s bad to deny yourself.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs again, more genuinely this time. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I expect to work out this problem sooner rather than ‘too much’ later.”
GM: “Oh? Have someone in mind?” Cécilia asks, smiling.
Caroline: The Ventrue smirks. “The first non-repulsive or overtly hostile lick within arm’s reach?”
GM: Cécilia laughs. “I suppose there’s something to be said for-”
Her phone buzzes.
“Oh, they’re here. Let’s let them in.”
Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016
GM: Celia heads across the house with Caroline to answer the front door. The Ventrue thinks she’s met Simmone’s dance teacher at a few long-ago political functions. She’s a 40-something woman who wears her age well, with a toned figure, vibrant complexion (perhaps little surprise given her daughter’s skincare business), and chin-length sandy blonde hair in a bob cut. She has especially great lashes. She wears a floral-printed ’60s-style shift dress with pink ballet flats.
The girl who must be Celia’s daughter is a slightly thin six-year-old with thick eyeglasses who shares her grandmother’s fair skin and blonde-ish hair. She’s dressed in a cream-colored dress with a yellow cake skirt that doesn’t look too little kid-ish around the older children.
“Mrs. Flores, thanks for coming by on such short notice,” Cécilia smiles as she hugs the older woman.
“Oh, it’s nothing! I’m just glad to have Simmone still dancing, with how graceful your whole family is,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she returns the hug. “And you really can call me Diana, you graduated McGehee a while ago now.”
“Habit,” Cécilia remarks. “And this must be Lucy,” she says as she crouches down to the six-year-old’s eye level.
“That’s right,” Mrs. Flores says as she touches the child’s back. “Lucy, this is Cécilia, that very talented former student I told you about. Can you say hi?”
“Hi,” returns the six-year-old.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Lucy,” Cécilia says, shaking the girl’s hand. “I bet you love having a grandma who can give you dance lessons.”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Lucy smiles.
“And this is my sister Caroline,” Cécilia says, rising to introduce the Ventrue. “I think you two might have met before?”
“I think so! It’s been a while, but Nathaniel Malveaux’s daughter, right?” Mrs. Flores remarks.
Caroline can imagine the kine woman’s instinctive nervousness around her, without the effort of will to send blood pumping through her turgid veins. Celia’s mother probably would not want to hug. But she puts on a smile and spreads her arms for the corpse that is not a corpse.
Caroline: Caroline can’t imagine any of her kine relatives would want to approach her, much less the near stranger. She knows what she looks like these nights. What’s left of her soul. Not that it matters to her sisters. Just another reason only a fool would label them as kine.
Keeping the blood moving is costly. Traitors and the requirements of her station make it a painful expense. But she’d rather not terrify her sister’s teacher, much Autumn’s sister or Celia’s daughter. God knows Celia has enough reasons to fear Caroline. So she pays the price, hides the corpse that she has become behind the blood of her latest victim—if not still warm than certainly still very much fresh.
“Years ago,” Caroline agrees, looking at the older woman. She looks less like a victim than she’d perhaps feared. Feels less fragile than she’d expected in the brief hug.
“Not the least among the things I’ve been called,” she flashes a dazzling smile. “We’re so happy you could bring along this little lady,” she gestures to Lucy.
She doesn’t know what she expected a child born of incestuous rape to look like. Less normal, perhaps. Less innocent.
GM: Then again, she hardly looks the part of a dozens-time undead murderer either.
“Me too,” Celia’s mom replies. “Lucy’s always happy to make new friends, and it sure makes childcare a breeze to just bring her along.”
“You have another daughter in med school who lives at home, right?” Cécilia asks.
“Yes, so she can’t babysit too much these days. You would not believe how hard they work those students.”
Caroline: “I was in Tulane’s pre-med pipeline before I sold my soul to become an attorney,” Caroline answers. “You might be surprised at what I’d believe.”
GM: “You’re really tall,” Lucy remarks to Caroline.
Her grandmother laughs and pats her head somewhat chidingly. “And you’re really short, little lady. We come in all sizes.”
Caroline: She squats gracefully, balancing on her heeled toes in a way she doesn’t think she’d ever have been able to manage in life. “And you’re very observant, young lady.” With the heels she’s well over six feet.
“How old are you?” Caroline asks, trying to bury herself in the mundane moment.
GM: “I’m six an’ a couple months,” says Lucy. “My birthday’s in January.”
“What’s an attorney?”
“It’s another name for lawyer, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers. “That’s what David is studying to be.”
Caroline: “An attorney is someone that helps people with a lot of boring law stuff,” Caroline answers very seriously. “We write things for people, go to court for them, and help them when they’re accused of breaking the law.” And sometimes when they actually do so as well.
Perhaps more than sometimes.
GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. “That doesn’t sound boring.”
“Trust the expert,” Cécilia smiles. “But they make the world go round in so many ways.”
Lucy doesn’t look sure what to say to that, but remarks, “I have aunts and uncles and mommies who do everything, I have so many. My mommy Celia makes people pretty, my mommy Emily’s a doctor, my uncle David’s a lawyer, my aunt Sophia’s a, I dunno, my uncle Logan’s in the Army, and my aunt Isabel’s in Africa.”
Caroline: “That’s a lot of aunts and uncles to help take care of you,” Caroline observes. “You must feel pretty fortunate.”
Africa. Right. She supposes there are worse cover stories.
GM: “It seems like it’s a bit until the others get here. Would we all like to sit down, or maybe start the lesson?” Cécilia asks.
“Better if they all start the first one together,” says Mrs. Flores. “Dependin’ on how regular a thing this is going to be.”
Caroline: “Can we get you settled in, then?” Caroline asks. “Something to drink?”
GM: “Oh, yes please. Sweet tea for us both, if you have it,” says Mrs. Flores.
“All right. Why don’t I go wake Simmone, actually, she was napping. Caroline, I’m sure you can manage some tea?”
A fib. She’s been clinging to Abélia’s body all day except for food and bathroom breaks.
Caroline: A state of affairs that Caroline has not been especially pleased with, but while one of the most important to her, it was also one of the less immediately pressing.
“Of course.” She leads the Floreses to the kitchen and fishes out a pair of glasses—one a plastic one with a lid held over from a time when Simmone was substantially younger.
GM: Cécilia was just glad they didn’t need to use a pot for the bathroom breaks.
Caroline: “So, Mrs. Flores, it sounds like you’ve raised quite the brood. Lawyer, military, Africa? And, of course,” she looks at Lucy, “one of the city’s most renowned beauticians.”
GM: “Look at my nails!” says Lucy, holding them out. They’re alternating blue and pink with sparkly polish.
Caroline: Caroline examines the proffered hand with only slightly exaggerated delight. “That’s very colorful. Did your mom do that?”
There’s another word she might use if Lucy was a little older: garish. But a six-year-old should be allowed at least some fun. The rest of the world will intrude soon enough.
GM: “Landen did,” the six-year-old says.
“He’s a cosmetologist at my daughter’s spa,” the dance teacher fills in.
“They,” says Lucy.
“Ah, that’s right. It’s a pronoun thing. I’m too old to wrap my head around it.” Mrs. Flores chuckles and makes a twirling motion around her ear.
She pulls Lucy onto her lap as she sits down. “Anyways, that’s very kind of you to say, Caroline! I sure am proud of them all.”
Caroline: ‘They’ do seem to have proliferated.
GM: “David’s in law school, technically, and Logan’s in the ROTC. Isabel’s in Sudan doing missionary work.”
Caroline: “All well on their way then. Fortunate that Celia provided you with a new one to dote on. I wonder if that’s half of why the family is so enamored with Cécilia and Luke’s marriage. I know my mother would have awful empty nester’s if she didn’t have a child on her hip.” She frowns. “Sudan is a dangerous choice, though. Do you ever worry about Isabel?”
GM: Mrs. Flores chuckles. “When you have that many kids, just one can feel like an empty nest of its own. But also a vacation.”
“And oh yes, I do worry about her. Like you say, it’s a very dangerous country! But she thinks it’s worth it to bring Jesus to people who need Him.”
Caroline: “I suppose we all have to follow our callings,” Caroline replies. “Is she at least in touch? I can’t imagine it’s easy from half a world away.”
GM: Isabel left town after those videos circulated. Maxen might still be in office, but there are scandals a man’s reputation can weather that a woman’s simply can’t.
“You’re right, it’s not. She stays in touch, though. My husband got her a satellite phone as a parting gift, and my kids say there’s some app you can use to save on international call rates. She and Logan talk a lot.”
GM: “He’s hoping he might get stationed at one of the bases in Africa. There have been a lot of those since what is it called, Africa Command, started up. But it’s obviously a shot in the dark where the military sends its servicemen.”
“That would just tickle me pink, though, if they could get to see each other regularly off in Africa.”
Caroline: “The world can be a lot smaller than one might think in that way,” Caroline half-agrees.
“Still, it sounds like they’re all on their way. What was that book, ‘Oh the place’s you’ll go’?”
GM: Mrs. Flores laughs. “That’s the one. You’re talkin’ to a schoolteacher. I know it cover to cover.”
Caroline: “I loved that book as a child,” Caroline smiles, then turns to Lucy. “Do you know which one we’re talking about?”
GM: “That’s the one with the guy on the disc thing?” says Lucy.
“That’s right, Lucy-Goose! He’s looking out across all the places he might go.”
Caroline: “We all come home eventually though,” Caroline piggy-backs.
GM: Mrs. Flores nods. “It’s a wonderful thing to have some real roots. It is just such a blessing to still have most of my kids right here in the city. And for you to have both your families right by, too!”
“So Logan and Isabel are gonna come back?” asks Lucy.
“They sure are!” her grandma answers. “It’s good for them to go out and see the world, but they know where home is.”
Caroline: “Oh, we scatter well enough as well. Ivy Leagues and Washington and France, but we always come back together. Family is what matters,” Caroline agrees.
At least, on her mother’s side. The kine on her father’s are a thorny issue in many ways.
She’s glad she’s not the only Sanctified to feel the same way, if Mrs. Flores’ comments on her daughter are to be believed.
GM: “It sure is,” Mrs. Flores echoes. “It’s so sweet how your sister is always at home like this, helping your mom take care of the younger ones. You just cannot do it without help once you have enough rugrats.”
“How Cécilia is always home, that is,” the dance teacher clarifies with a laugh. “I suppose ‘your sister’ isn’t very specific, with six.”
Caroline: “We all chip in, in various ways, but Cécilia is definitely the most mothering of the group. I think it comes with being the oldest.”
GM: “Yes, it does. Just the way of things. The oldest get a preview of what it’s like to be a mom or dad, the youngest get to be babies forever.”
Caroline: “And the middle children look for ways to stand out against either end?”
GM: “The middle children, I think, also have more freedom,” Mrs. Flores says thoughtfully. “Fewer people tellin’ them what they need to be, I suppose.”
“Oh, say! I wouldn’t normally bring up politics, bad manners and all, but I think it’ll be safe here. I just want to say I voted for your dad in the 2012 election,” the dance teacher smiles. “I’d have voted for him in the primary this year, too, if he’d made it to our state.”
Caroline ‘heard’ about how her father dropped out after New Hampshire. From the public speech he gave, that she’d viewed online like any other voter. Nobody in the family even told her that Dad was suspending his presidential campaign.
Oh well. They hadn’t asked her to get involved with it, either.
Caroline: Hadn’t talked to her at all, in fact. Not since the last time they berated her. Insulted her. Threatened her. Hurt her.
You’d think, she reflects, that would make it easier to be out in the cold. But it doesn’t. They cut her off. Severed her, like a gangrenous limb. Or perhaps more accurately like a hangnail or stray hair for all the pain it seemed to cause them.
Her whole life trying to be the perfect daughter. Her whole life trying to please her father, to be worth his time and effort, and he threw her away without so much as a phone call.
Westley fucking murdered people and got better treatment.
She could scream against the injustice of it, and cry out in pain at how all of her hopes and dreams were not only destroyed, but savagely ground underfoot by her family, but neither of those things would do any good. Neither would make her feel better. She cried her tears for the Malveauxes months ago.
This, here, now, however…
She has a better family. Sisters instead of brothers. A mother instead of a father. Acceptance instead of chastisement. Solidarity instead of secrets. Pride instead of expectations. Love instead of the mad, burning hate she saw in her uncle’s eyes the night they cut her out.
And there’s her sire. Her sire, in place of her father. A figure of power, a dark god among the damned. For all the secrets and fear there, between them, there’s yet a hope of what is to come. The possibility of a place she might have never occupied in life for her father, and renewed purpose.
She puts on a smile, buries the pain in those thoughts. “That’s very kind of you to say. The field this year was, I think, just a little too crowded. There are worse things for the party though than to have too much talent.”
GM: “I’m glad your sire said the family is yours again, at least,” Cécilia had said earlier when the topic came up. “I’m sure that doesn’t magically fix everything, and I completely understand if what they put you through still really hurts. But if there’s anything I or Maman or any other others can do to help with them, just let us know.”
“And social attitudes are shifting, too. Opposition to gay rights is getting to be an increasingly unpopular position that conservative politicians are relieved to foist off to the courts, I think. So that could make sorting things out with your dad’s family easier, a few years down the line, if right now turns out not to be a good time.”
Mrs. Flores nods. “There’s definitely no shortage of candidates to still choose between! I hope he’ll run again in the next primary, though, he’ll still have my vote. At least eating all those corn dogs in Iowa helped him build his national brand.”
“Who’s he? Who’s eating corn dogs?” asks Lucy.
“Nathaniel Malveaux, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers the child on her lap. “He’s our senator. His job is to go to Washington D.C., that pretty city where the White House is, and write laws for us. Laws that help keep everybody safe and happy.”
“Mommy Emily says he’s a… corp-ir-ite shill,” says Lucy, slowly pronouncing the word.
“Divided household,” the dance teacher says to Caroline with a half-apologetic laugh. “You want to tell this future voter why she might want to support your daddy?”
Caroline: Yours again, Cécilia had said. She supposes they are hers, but she’s not certain they’ll ever be hers the way she once wished. The dreams of holding to the family, of pretending to be one of them, of keeping her place as the perfect daughter, seem as childish as those of a girl dreaming of Disney princesses. To take them for her own had required she break them, or maybe break her, and whatever shifting social mores might be, she doesn’t think what she broke will ever set right.
She isn’t even sure she wants it to be. The Devillers have shown her what family can be, have filled that hole she spent her whole life trying to shove so many hopes into. And her sire… what does her father offer next to him? It’s his blood, much more than her father’s, that runs in her veins now. What he offers is true power and purpose. It makes the kingdom among kine she imagined she might inherit seem one made of glass and sand in comparison—an illusion of power in a world whose truth she was blind to.
Sorting things out… there are things to sort out. How her dominion of the family will be executed, how she will make them a worthy domain, and herself worthy of the domain she has been given over them. She fears that will involve more pain yet to come, and until that is resolved it may be easier as they are now. And years down the line… years down the line, how will she explain the same face, even as everyone ages? Living among the kine cannot but be a temporary thing for the damned. Some day, one not so far off, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will have to disappear.
Her gaze rests in the now on Mrs. Flores, and the easy answers lie on her lips. Lies she’s told a thousand times, some of which she might even believe. Lies she can’t tell, at least not to the smiling woman before her. Mrs. Flores, whose abuse the family covered up. Whose abuse she helped cover up. This woman who went through a very personal hell because it was politically convenient, but is still here smiling, buying the lies, selling what she’s been sold to her granddaughter.
“Maybe someday,” she says, forcing a smile into place, “but not tonight. I know better than to jump in the middle of a family feud.”
GM: It’s all-too easy to imagine Claire’s response to that. It might be something along the lines of,
My god, Caroline, you can’t even sell the family brand to a willing audience? To an honest-to-goodness party legislator’s grandchild and ex-wife? Optics matter. Campaign season is never over, just less busy. You need to act like there are journalists everywhere if you don’t want to be caught with your pants down someday. And, of course, actually promote your father around potential voters. Can’t you even do that bare minimum for us?
Mrs. Flores smiles apologetically.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that, even secondhand. Emily’s very opinionated about these things—but my daughter Celia isn’t, don’t worry, politics won’t come up around her once she’s here.”
“Mommy Celia makes people pretty,” Lucy chimes.
“That she does, Lucy-Goose! Super pretty!” Mrs. Flores tells her granddaughter, bopping her nose, then looks back up at Caroline. “I know your daddy’s worked so hard to get where he is, and has done so much for the people of our state. Really so much.”
“I don’t know if you remember this, you’d have been in maybe grade school, but your daddy took you and your family to see a Nutcracker show I was in once. And after the cast had all taken our bows, he showed up with my husband to congratulate us all—by name. We all look identical in tutus and with our faces made up, so that isn’t exactly easy! And he was just so warm and had such specific praise for each girl. I doubt he was a ballet enthusiast, but that told me he was the sort of man who gave his all to something. That when he was there in that theater, he was there, just 100%.”
“And some of times when I saw him afterwards, at functions with my husband, he’d bring up that show or others I’d been in, ask really thoughtful questions about them, and just make me feel like I was the center of his world. I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that human element, even if we disagree over policy.”
“He sounds nice,” says Lucy.
“He sure is, little Luce! Just such a nice man,” the dance teacher smiles at Caroline. “Like I said, he’ll have my vote no matter what office he’s running for.”
Caroline: “I’m certain he’ll be happy to hear it.” Caroline forces another smile into place. “So much of politics is reaching out to individuals, and I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear that he made such an impression on you. I know how hard he works at it.”
GM: “I bet he does! I know how busy that kept my husband, and I’m sure it’s a whole ‘nother league at the federal level like your dad’s now at.”
“Are we gonna have sweet tea?” asks Lucy.
There’s a knock from the front door.
“Oh, looks like Steph or Celia are here!” says Mrs. Flores.
Caroline: Caroline leaves the pitcher on the table. “Please, help yourself. I’ll bring them.”
The heiress’ heels click across the kitchen as she departs.
GM: It’s Autumn. She’s there with a younger girl around 10 years of age. She has neck-length brown hair, brown eyes, and a slightly large nose and thick eyebrows. Caroline’s newly-sharp eyesight can make out a dental retainer in her mouth. She’s dressed in blue jeans and a lighter top with a panda bear on it.
“Hey, Caroline. This is Stef,” she says, introducing the girl.
Caroline: “Autumn, I’m glad you both could make it.” Caroline greets her ghoul as though the other woman isn’t her blood-addicted slave.
GM: “Hi,” says Stef with a shy smile.
“Your house is really nice.”
Caroline: “Why thank you, Stef, I think so too,” Caroline answers, silently assessing the girl. She’s a good fit for what she has planned for Simmone. “Why don’t you come in? I was just chatting with Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter.”
GM: Autumn closes the door behind them as they step in. Stef wipes her shoes on the welcome mat again. She looks more than a little nervous in the palatial surroundings. As if afraid she might accidentally break something priceless.
Caroline: The undead monster lays a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “The house wouldn’t be 150 years old if it was that fragile,” she smiles. “Come on, you must be parched, I know it’s warm out there.”
GM: “Okay. I, I guess not,” Stef smiles back.
Caroline: “Have you ever danced before?” Caroline asks as they walk.
GM: “Uh, not really…” the ten-year-old answers.
Autumn frowns a bit, as if just realizing the kid who already has a dance instructor, and that dance instructor’s live-in granddaughter, probably have a lot more experience than Stef.
“It’s okay,” she tells her sister. “You can probably start with beginner stuff. Gotta start somewhere.”
Caroline: “Mrs. Flores said specifically she wanted to wait until everyone got here to get started, so everyone could begin in the same place,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Oh, that’s good,” says Stef.
As they reach the living room, Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter have already poured glasses. Lucy seems to have found one of the family cats, Mr. Shah, and is avidly running her hands through the Persian’s fluffy white fur. He proves a good icebreaker for Stef, who sits down next to Lucy to pet the feline as people make introductions.
Autumn and Mrs. Flores seem to already passingly know each other: Autumn mentions that she actually got to attend McGehee for her high school years thanks a scholarship her synagogue set up (“education’s really important to us”), though she never took Ballroom Dance. The dance teacher makes a mostly joking-seeming “tsk-tsk” at that.
Caroline: “McGehee is the best,” Caroline laughs.
“Well,” she amends, “at least in New Orleans.”
GM: “I hope you had a good dance teacher where you went,” says Mrs. Flores. “Your whole family’s just so graceful! It’d be like defacing a painting not to have y’all take dance.”
Caroline: “My interests took me in another direction,” Caroline answers with a hint of a grin. “But don’t worry, I still had good teachers.”
GM: “Oh, what’s it you do, ma’am?” asks Stef as she rubs Mr. Shah’s belly. “Autumn says she knows you from work.”
Caroline: “Well, that’s another story,” Caroline replies. “But I was very interested in fencing when I was younger. It wasn’t quite a dance… but it also was, in its own way.”
GM: “Oh, it very much is,” Mrs. Flores nods. “Historically, ballet emerged in Italy during the late Renaissance as a dance interpretation of fencing. There’s actually some really old fencing illustrations that look like the duelists are assuming ballet positions, all the way down to the turned-out feet. Go back far enough and the saber isn’t too removed from the tutu.”
Caroline: “In another life you might have been a fencer?” Caroline asks with a hint of mischief.
GM: Diana laughs. “Oh, I prefer to let the men do that sort of thing! Maybe in another life I’d have been a courtier’s wife, with one of those funny little cone-shaped hats.”
Celia: There’s another knock on the door.
Caroline: The heiress rolls her eyes. “You all couldn’t have planned this. I’ll be right back. Please, help yourself.”
Her heels echo on the hardwood floors, announcing both her departure and approach to the door.
Celia: A decidedly not nervous Celia Flores stands on the other side with her fingers wrapped around the handle of a silver box. It looks like some sort of bulky, hard-cased roller luggage, though with what Caroline knows of her purpose here that is, probably, not the case. The girl looks much the same as she remembers from that fateful night in college, though she’s aged. Aged well, to look at her; there’s not a sign of premature wrinkles, graying hair, or the ever-present hyperpigmentation or leftover scarring from the poor skin that took her in her youth. She looks positively radiant. Then again, she’s not yet thirty, perhaps they all look radiant at this age.
She has kept it casual this evening: slacks, blouse, flats that are reminiscent of pointe shoes, natural makeup. Nothing to draw attention from the little girls whose faces she will be polishing and painting before their lesson.
She has a pleasant smile on her face, though her eyes widen minutely when she sees who it is that answers the door.
“Why, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I did not expect to see you here.”
Caroline: The heiress eyes the case for a moment, but turns her attention from it quickly to the kine before her.
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be, Miss Flores,” she laughs lightly.
So that’s how it is?
Celia: “Here I thought Momma had brought me in to pamper the little ladies.”
Caroline: “Please, come in.” She steps inside and gestures for the other woman to join her. “It’s been a long time. Years, I think.”
Celia: Celia’s eyes sweep the blonde. She’s a little one herself, next to Caroline in her heels. She does step inside, though, and lifts the case into her arms rather than roll it along.
“Too long,” she agrees. “How’s life been treating you?”
Caroline: Laughter dances behind Caroline’s eyes. She wonders how she must look to the radiant, living girl before her, but she knows the answer: like hell.
“Oh, you know,” she answers. “Life seemed easier in college. These days it seems like there’s always ten things pawing for my time.”
Celia: Celia’s lips part, giving voice to the laughter that Caroline didn’t utter. She does know. That pawing she mentions is more like clawing, scraping, the thing inside of her reacting to the presence of the one in Caroline. She is suddenly glad for the lessons given to her by her sire’s cousin to keep her own scent from spilling out and wonders whose toes she is stepping on by being here.
“I completely understand. Always feel like I’m being pulled in seventeen different directions.”
Not that college was any better.
“Emily, you might remember my roommate from…” she trails off, “well, anyway, she mentioned you left the pre-med program?”
Caroline: “Well, in part,” Caroline answers. “I finished pre-med, but decided to sell out for law instead of medicine in post-grad.”
“I don’t know that anyone I was in the program with will ever forgive me, but when I look at my old classmates beating their head against the wall in med school or residency… well. It wasn’t the right way forward for me.”
Celia: “I’ll be honest, I think you made the right decision. The stories she tells me about everything she gets up to in residency, the sleepless nights… that’s entirely too much for a person. But, hey, can’t complain about having a doctor in the family.”
“I’m glad you found something that works better for you. I had a… hm. Ex-boyfriend, I suppose, who went to law school.”
Caroline: “Oh? Anyone I’d know?” Caroline asks.
Celia: “He was a few years older than us, but you might know his dad if you’re in the field? Garrison.”
“He, ah… he passed away. A few years ago.”
Caroline: “Henry Garrison?” She winces. “I’m sorry to hear that. It seems like everyone has at least some tragedy in their lives.”
Like your dead sister.
Celia: “Thank you. Sorry to bring up such dark things, sometimes my mind just… well, you know.” She waves, a vague gesture. “Hopefully that’s the last of the tragedies for me.” She forces the air from her lungs in a sigh, then gives Caroline a small smile. “And hopefully none for you.”
Caroline: There’s a twitch there at the end of the comment. Please, set your dead boyfriend against the tragedy of my life.
“Are those the goods?” she asks, gesturing to the silver case in Celia’s hands as she closes the door behind her.
Celia: Thank god for small mercies. Even without the Beast roaring in her ears she’d be off-balance here; she’s thankful they’ve moved onto safer topics. Her fingers tap against the side of the case.
“They are! I wasn’t sure how many girls to expect, and you know at that age there’s not really a lot of skin concerns, so I just… brought a little bit of everything. Are you sticking around for a bit? Maybe you could join..?”
“Not,” she adds hastily, “that you need anything. You’re gorgeous, of course.”
Oh boy. She abruptly shuts her mouth.
Caroline: Caroline’s laughter is light and fluttering, girded in a smile.
“Should I take that as a professional opinion? To hear Cécilia talk, there’s not anyone else in the city she’d let do her makeup and skincare for the wedding.”
Celia: Celia beams at her, nerves swept aside. “I am beyond thrilled that she asked me to do her up for the wedding. Cécilia was one of my closest friends in high school, and to be able to do this for her… I’m honored. Truly. She will make the most beautiful bride. Did you get roped into helping them plan?”
Caroline: “Oh, there wasn’t very much roping involved,” Caroline answers. “I can think of painfully few things that could keep me away from my sister’s wedding—most of them very painful. Still, like always, she’s trying to make everything as easy on everyone around her as possible. I swear she had half of it planned out before he popped the question.”
Celia: “Don’t we all?” Celia laughs.
She tries not to think about the wedding she’ll never have.
Caroline: “I don’t know how you find the time. I don’t have a daughter and I still don’t seem to have enough hours in the day.”
Don’t we all? Did she? The only man she ever consider marrying with any seriousness was Neil, and that scared her more than it excited her. Scared her enough that she went and ruined everything.
Caroline runs a hand through her pale blonde hair, so much like that of her sisters.
“I should take better care of myself, though, for her. I couldn’t live with myself if I ruined her wedding photos.”
Celia: Celia’s lightness immediately dies with Caroline’s remark, replaced by something sharper, more assessing. She sets down the box and takes a step closer.
Her hand is lifted, as if to touch.
Caroline: “Of course, far be it for me to reject professional help.”
She wonders faintly if Autumn would mind doing her makeup moving forward. To make her look a little less dead. It seems more the type of thing she’d have experience with, and might even enjoy.
Celia: Celia closes the gap between them. The height difference is staggering, with her in flats and Caroline in heels, but Celia was a dancer for a number of years, and old habits die hard. She rises to the tips of her toes in her flats, balancing as easily on them as she had in her youth. It doesn’t close the gap, but it narrows it, and her eyes scan Caroline’s face as if looking through a microscope.
“As far as finding time, Momma has been a godsend with the childcare,” Celia tells her. Her lips barely move as she speaks. “There’s the three of us raising her, so it’s been easier.”
Caroline: Perhaps it was a bad idea. She wonders what the woman will see in her dead face.
Celia: Her touch is light on Caroline’s chin. She slides her fingers up, over her jaw, and then sweep back around across her cheekbone. She seems to be looking beyond the skin more than at it, though after a moment of intense scrutiny—and a longer moment of the wild scratching and snarling inside of her—she drops back.
Caroline: The Beast doesn’t like being touched, but Celia’s touch is light. It beats the hugs most kine insist on.
Celia: “You have good bone structure. Good base. Skin… needs some hydration.”
That is a tactful way of saying ‘dead,’ she thinks, though of course Celia isn’t supposed to know that.
“I could get a routine together for you, if you like.”
That’s something she’d offer to someone who isn’t a corpse, isn’t it? So normal.
“But as far as ruining wedding photos, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. A little color here, some black in the waterline to darken there…” She shakes her head as if to cut off the train of thought before she ventures too far down it. “Like I said, Caroline, gorgeous.”
Caroline: Caroline lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. At least she won’t have to mind-rape the other girl to explain away that something is dreadfully wrong with her.
She taps a finger on her lower lip and wonders if such a regimen would do any good. It might, she considers, though she’d have to tailor it for things that help day of, vice over time. It’s not so different than her sire shaving every morning. Image is important.
Celia: She’s seen that look before. She’s spoken to others, like the two of them, about what can still be effective after death and what can’t. She supposes she could offer the services of Jade, though that seems… dangerous. She smiles politely all the same.
Caroline: “I may very well take you up on that,” she agrees after a moment. “As long as my mistreatment of such a regimen wouldn’t offend your professional sensibilities.”
Celia: “I expect my clients to lie to me. It’s like telling the dentist that yes, of course you’re flossing.” Celia winks at her.
“I can show you some things after the little ones are done, or, if you’d prefer a different atmosphere, I can bring you in to the spa. Do a full service, really get into it.”
Caroline: In the French Quarter. That seems like it’ll end well. For some reason, she doesn’t expect the same warm welcome she’s received in the past.
“We can talk during their lesson, if that works for you?”
Celia: That went over about as well as she expected. She wonders if Cécilia is going to have her do everything here, if Caroline is in the wedding. She’ll need to figure out the logistics of that.
“That works beautifully for me. Anything I don’t have with me I can have sent over. Are you living here now? I remember you said you had an apartment near Tulane last we spoke.” Years and years and years ago.
Caroline: “Oh, I spend the night sometimes, but I have an apartment near the French Quarter. I like remaining grounded with my family, but there are certain things that I don’t feel the need to share with my little sisters—or my mother—if you know what I mean.” Caroline offers her own wink.
Her eyes sweep the shorter woman up and down. “And I’m sure you do.”
Celia: Did she just…?
Celia averts her eyes, a small smile pulling at her lips. It brings to mind a certain awkward family dinner where she had felt the need to share with her mother and Emily. She had, thankfully, been forgiven for her less-than-stellar showing that evening. When she looks back at Caroline her smile is nothing short of wicked.
“You’d win that bet.”
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth. “Well, I guess I can take some comfort in not being the only daughter that didn’t keep her purity ring.”
Celia: “My own wasn’t proof enough?” She nods her head toward where she can hear Lucy’s laughter echoing through the house. “Pretty sure I had it on the night she was conceived. You’re in good company.”
Caroline: That conjures an wretched image for Caroline, of Maxen fucking his purity ring-wearing daughter, but she pushes past it. She picked the topic.
“Well, I mean, it happened once before, so I’d rather not assume.”
Celia: She is ignorant of the vision that plays for Caroline; her own features her mother bending, naked, to clean up what dripped out of her the night her father kidnapped and raped her. Someone’s hand in hers, telling her to breathe. Three toes on the soft carpet.
“I imagine the two of us get up to all sorts of things that would make our mothers’ heads spin.”
Caroline: You have no idea, Caroline thinks.
“Better to leave some mystery,” she agrees instead.
Celia: “Speaking of mothers, perhaps I should set up to get the little ones going before mine comes looking for me. Do you know where the best spot for that is? I don’t want to be in the way of their dancing.”
GM: Speak of the devil and she’ll appear.
Celia’s mother rounds the hall. “Hi, sweetie! I’m so glad you could make it!” she exclaims, pulling her daughter into a squeeze.
Caroline observes it all. The way Mrs. Flores’ face lights up when she sees Celia. How tight her initiated hug is. How long it lasts. How widely the dance teacher smiles. How she closes her eyes for just a moment. She looks as if seeing her daughter brings her genuine happiness. Like it actively, immediately makes her day better.
Even in her new family’s house, it’s hard not to think back to Claire. Her first mother. Her stepmother. Whatever.
All those years of stiff embraces and clipped words.
Or just as often, no embraces and sharp telling-offs.
Or bitter arguments and just not seeing each other.
Celia: Celia has to set the case down again to let her mother wrap her up in her embrace. Her smile is warm, face as open as the arms she spreads for the older woman before enveloping her in a hug. There’s nothing forced in her smile.
“I wouldn’t miss it, Momma. We were just coming to see you. Caroline and I got caught up swapping stories. Where’s my baby Goose?”
GM: “She’s in the living room with the other girl, Stephanie, and her sister Autumn. They found some kitties to play with,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she pulls away. “I’ve got your products bag with me, by the way, but looks like you came pretty well-equipped.”
Celia: Kitties. Cats. Of course there have to be animals. She wonders if they’ll respond as negatively to the thing inside of her as her mother’s two cats had. Her smile dims marginally.
“Why don’t I set up elsewhere so I don’t interrupt them. Is that where you’re giving the lesson?”
GM: “I usually give Simmone her lesson in one of the sitting rooms,” Celia’s mom answers. “I figured we could have you pretty the girls up first, so they can feel glamorous while they’re dancing. Though it’ll mostly be going over the five positions for tonight’s lesson, on account of Stef bein’ a beginner.”
Celia: What, house this big doesn’t have its own dance studio? She hasn’t been here since she was a teen, but she thinks she remembers the way to the kitchen. She says she can set up there, if that’s amenable, or one of the other sitting rooms. Out of the way.
Caroline: “The kitchen works fine,” Caroline answers.
She doesn’t linger on the sight of Celia and her mother. Doesn’t dwell on Claire. What she has is better.
Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016
Celia: Celia heads that way, case clutched in her hands, and sets up at the kitchen island. There’s something about sitting on the big stools that makes little kids feel like adults. She opens the case on the counter. Inside is a treasure of cosmetics and bottles of serums, ointments, and cleansers. Foundation ranging from ivory to ebony sits in tiny little bottles, blushes made of powder and cream, pencil and liquid liners. And the palettes. The eyeshadow palettes are what little girls live for: sparkles, rainbow, glitter. Every color imaginable, set in little pink carboard boxes with their tiny pans of multicolored pigments.
Celia pulls out a black bag that unfolds into what looks to be a toolbelt, which she fastens around her waist. Its pockets are filled with brushes of varying shapes and styles, tweezers, two tiny spritz bottles of clear liquid and one of blue. They’re all labeled in neat writing: water, alcohol, Barbicide. There’s a small mirror, too, so the girls can look themselves over when it’s all done.
It only takes a moment to get everything in order.
“Who’s first, then?”
Caroline: “Can I get you something to drink while you work?” the towering blonde asks as Celia sets up.
Celia: Nothing you have here.
“Oh no, thank you so much though.”
GM: There’s plenty for her to drink here.
But it probably wouldn’t be polite.
Cécilia and Simmone look to have come downstairs, while Caroline and Cécilia talked. It also looks like everyone finally got around to the sweet tea. Cécilia remains the same pale-skinned, high-cheekboned, and willowy-figured vision of beauty who she last worked on. She’s wearing a pale blue skirt and white blouse.
The 10-year-old sitting next to her (close enough by, in fact, to touch) looks like a miniature version of the woman, down to the same milky skin, pale long blonde hair, and clear blue eyes. She’s wearing a belted white knee-length dress that suits her complexion well. Compared to most preteens, there’s no awkwardness, no acne, no nothing: she’s like a swan that skipped its ugly duckling phase and is simply a miniature swan. Her hair is a little mussed, though, and her eyes are a little puffy. She’d look prettier, too, if she was smiling. She needs Celia’s careful hand.
Then there’s Caroline. That marble, statuesque icon, so tall in her heels. Her aristocratic bearing, lovely angles, flawless skin, and haughty eyes, rides the edge between elegance and allure, remaining refined enough to avoid the overtly sexuality of many beautiful women. Those eyes take hold next, lovely and precious diamonds, and just as cold as the stones they resemble. While there may be light within them, there is no real life: the light is a reflection off of them rather than a projection from within. They’re eyes Celia could spend a decade staring into for all their facets, and it would not be a lost decade. There is, however, so much else to see there, if she can look past the window dressing and break free of that gaze.
They’re all so fucking pretty.
So, so pretty.
Celia can imagine them under her hands. She could take their beauty and make them goddesses. There is so, so much to work with here. It seems almost offensive to have the plainer-looking Stef girl and her sister in the same room. It’s like hanging an amateur’s painting next to a Van Gough. It’s just in bad taste. Her mom’s and sister’s faces are tolerable, at least, when she worked on them, but it’s still a simply inferior grade of material.
But Celia doesn’t need to imagine something else.
She would very, very much like to have a drink here.
And it’s fucking obvious who should be first.
Celia: It isn’t fair.
How can mere mortals be this beautiful? How can Lucy, Stef, and Diana stand here in the room with these four goddesses—yes, Celia herself is a goddess, though not with this mask on—and even call themselves the same species? They are perfection. Divine. Sculpted marble beauties that put all others to shame. Could Veronica even hold a candle to this?
No. No she couldn’t.
Celia had said it to Caroline earlier when the woman’s jaw was clutched in her hand, when she was staring into the eyes of the monster beneath that exquisite bone structure: gorgeous. It is a wonder she was not caught then, like a fly in the bear’s honey. She sees now that the matching trio of them only serves to amplify what is already there. She cannot ignore it. She does not want to ignore it.
She wants it. Wants them. Wants their skin, their faces, their silken hair. Wants to touch and caress and lick and feed. Her Beast, that monster, wants this beauty. All of them.
Her heart would stutter if it were not so carefully controlled by the blood pumping through her body. A smile splits her face a second too late as she stares, transfixed, at the girls. She has finally been given a reason to live, and it’s here in this kitchen with her.
Smooth steps take her to Cécilia’s side in an instant, arms outstretched to bring her old friend in for a hug.
“Oh, Cécilia,” she says in a voice that’s more purr than not, “you are simply ravishing.”
GM: “Thank you, Celia,” Caroline’s sister smiles as she returns the hug. “I can’t wait to see how you’ll make me look for the big day.”
“Or I suppose ‘big night.’ We’re having it in the evening.”
Celia: “You will be the most breathtaking woman to have ever walked the world, I promise you that.”
That’s the advantage of having one of them in the family already, isn’t it? Celia doesn’t need to worry about the schedule. Caroline will do it for her.
She pulls the girl close during their embrace, nestling her face against the crook of her neck for a very, very brief moment. She can hear the pulse beating away beneath her skin. Fractions of an inch away. It would be so easy to just…
She wrenches control of her mind back from the Beast. Soon. Soon she’ll have this one, she thinks, and the other as well, and they’ll be a pile of beauty together. But there are others here, watching, and Caroline’s presence complicates things considerably. She pulls away with a final smile, then looks to the miniature version of Cécilia. No less beautiful. Like a little porcelain doll. Celia crouches in front of her, eyes level with the child. Her smile is warm.
“You must be Simmone. You were so little last time I was here.”
She’ll grow up to put her other sisters to shame, Celia is sure of it.
Sure of it because she can ensure it, she thinks. She can sculpt the child. Start young and it’s less work. They grow into their features. How stunning would she be if Celia were to get her hands on her now?
The thought causes her to reach out, stroking her fingers through the girl’s hair. So soft. So luxurious.
“Do you want to go first, Simmone, or should I do your friends so you can hang with your sisters?”
Get them out of the kitchen that much quicker.
Leave her alone with these treats.
GM: Simmone stiffens and looks a little apprehensive as Celia starts touching her hair.
“Okay, you can do them,” she says.
Celia: Celia’s eyes soften. Her mother’s words come back to her: the child is afraid of everything. She has fits and seizures. The shooting.
She’ll need to be gentle with this one. Coax her like she would a stray, offer treats and rewards for opening up. But, oh, what a rose she would be if tended by the right hand.
Celia reaches into her belt to pull out a pink bottle with a black squirt cap on it. She offers it to the child, very serious.
“Can you be in charge of the Fix Plus for me? It has a very important job at the end of makeup application: just a spritz over your whole face and it melds all the layers together. Think you can handle that, little fawn?”
Fawn. Someone had called her that once, hadn’t they? Innocent, like a doe. Not so innocent now, she reflects, but she keeps her thoughts contained within the charming smile.
GM: Simmone looks at the bottle for a moment, then reaches out to take it.
“Can we bring back the kitties?” asks Lucy.
Celia: “Sorry, Goose,” Celia says to her child, “can’t have the cats playing in the makeup. Clients with allergies. But I can do your face first so you can get back to playing with them, how’s that?”
She doesn’t so much as wait for a response before scooping the girl up to put her on the stool.
GM: “Oh. Is it not okay to have them in the room?” asks Stef.
Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange from across the island, beside Autumn.
Celia: “Prefer not. Dander and hair get everywhere. I’ll make it quick though.” She smiles at the other girl. It isn’t quite as wide as the one she’d used for the Devillers sisters. She doesn’t shine like the sun, as they do.
“Then you can dance and play with the kitties to your heart’s content.”
While I play with another sort of kitty. Celia’s gaze flicks towards Caroline.
GM: “Yeah, cats probably a bad idea,” Autumn echoes.
After all, she hasn’t seen them around her domitor.
Celia: That decided, Celia gets to work.
She doesn’t tut over the way her daughter looks, but her eyes don’t shine for the child as they do for the sisters. It’s not her fault, she can’t help but think, she didn’t ask to be born plain. And she is. Plain. Celia’s beauty had somehow skipped this generation. She’s cute enough, for a kid, but there’s a little too much of him in her for her to ever say the girl is anything but normal.
She tries not to dwell on it.
She asks Lucy and Stef what colors they’d prefer and gets to work with her brushes and paints. They don’t need foundation or concealer—no one at that age does—so she doesn’t bother with it. Instead she gives them loud, sparkly looks, the kind of thing she enjoyed when she was a child that no sane adult would ever wear, going bigger and more glamourous at their urging.
She is an artist, and they her canvasses. Ordinary canvasses. Not the pristine, flawless kind she’s itching to get her hands on. Still, it doesn’t take long before the girls are done, each with a scented lip balm of their own to take with them for touch ups, and her eyes once more turn towards the ladies of the house.
“Children like color,” she says, almost bashfully, as her eyes find Cécilia and then Caroline.
GM: Lucy is cuter than Stef, at least. Her features have more attractive proportions. There’s also the fact she’s younger. Lucy squeals with delight and Stef smiles by the time Celia is finished.
Caroline: The Ventrue gathers up one of the cats and carries it out of the room at Celia’s direction, enlisting Autumn to hep with the second, then settles in to watch the artist work.
GM: Her mother, Autumn, and Cécilia all applaud the Toreador’s handiwork.
“Children and adults,” Cécilia agrees. “They look simply perfect, Celia.”
“Yes, they look just gorgeous, sweetie! Ready to knock ’em dead!” her mom smiles.
“Yeah, lots of color,” says Autumn.
Celia: Celia might flush under the praise of her longer-named friend. It’s hard to tell beneath the layers of foundation, concealer, and contour. Perhaps her cheeks are always that rosy. Her eyes shoot towards Caroline’s face as well, as if seeking similar praise.
“Simmone’s turn.” She turns to regard the girl, offering another one of those smiles. She’d let her spray the Fix Plus onto Stef and Lucy and she’s hoping that it at least calmed the child enough to let her touch her.
GM: Simmone seems to enjoy spraying on the Fix and feeling like part of the process. Cécilia looks pleased as she lifts her younger sister up onto the stool.
Caroline: “How’d you first get into doing cosmetics?” Caroline ask Celia as she works.
Celia: “I think I saw one of those pretend kits at the mall when my mother took me. I was very little.” Celia leans in to look over Simmone’s face. Her touch is whisper-light against the fair skin. “I asked Momma if she’d buy it for me and she did, and since then I’ve been… a bit mad for it, really. Poor skin in my youth, spent a long time correcting it. Not like you, Simmone, yours is pristine. A little angel all our own, aren’t you?”
“What do you think, Caroline? Blue, for her eyes? Purple would bring it out as well, though she’s so fair it might look mottled…” Brown would be a good color to bring out the blue, Celia knows. Tans and golds. It would make her eyes sparkle. But neutrals are not colors that kids generally enjoy. There’s no color there. No life. No vibrancy.
GM: “Celia loved to do face painting when she was little,” her mom confirms, smiling. “That, what, $10 kit was the best investment of our lives.”
Caroline: “Something you did together as mother and daughter?” Caroline asks. “Or, I suppose, mother and daughters. You’re fortunate enough to have a sister too.”
She turns her head as Celia works on Simmone. “What about a silver? It might work well with her hair, give her an ethereal look.”
GM: Simmone seems to think, then nods.
“Good choice,” says Cécilia. “The best makeup complements what’s already there.”
“Yep. We definitely got a lot of mileage out of that kit,” Celia’s mom answers. “Still do, too! These days, of course, Celia’s the one who does all the face painting. Leavin’ it to the pro and all. She pretties me up at least once a week. I won’t ever set foot inside another spa or salon in my life.”
“I’m not gonna either!” exclaims Lucy.
“Celia’s gonna do alllll my hair and face stuff, forever!”
Caroline: That could have been me. The thought runs through her mind, watching the mother and daughter interact. A normal life—even with the twisted beginnings. There’s a hint of jealousy that she’ll never have a child of her own.
Celia: Silver. Silver can work. Silver is second to gold but Celia can make it shine.
Her work begins. The world fades out around her. She nods at opportune moments, as if listening to the chatter of the children, but her attention is focused on the task in front of her.
It starts with primer swiped across the girl’s lids with a gentle touch. She lets it sit while she dabs a spot of color on her cheeks and blends it out in a deft hand. Then white across the lids. Pure white, no pigment, no mixing or muddying of colors. Base coat, to blend, to make anything she puts on top of it that much more striking. Her hands reach without her eyes even moving from the girl’s face for the small black palette, the only one of the bunch that hadn’t been opened yet. It sits innocuously in her belt, and when she opens it up it’s easy to see why: this is no kiddy palette, no face paint, no chalky hues from drug store counters. It’s high end. Buttery. So pigmented that Celia only needs a tiny amount on the end of a wet brush to sweep across Simmone’s eyes. She selects another blush for blending, buffing the silver out until where it begins and the white ends are intertwined like a pair of lovers. There is no separating these two. Then a darker silver, graphite even, for the outer corners. A small triangle of color, buffed and blended until her eyes shine.
She isn’t done.
She uses a pencil to line the girl’s brows, a powder to fill them in. Not dark, but darker. Liquid color between each lash to darken the line above her eye. Rosy cheeks. A tinted balm on her lips: MLBB. My lips but better. The same Celia uses for herself, though this one shimmers.
She stares, once she is done. The girl has gone from child to ethereal being. She is no porcelain doll. She is fine china, a delicate nymph, innocence incarnate.
She is an angel, and Celia created her.
Caroline: Caroline watches Celia work over her youngest sister, watches the almost frantic energy with which she paints and draws and sculpts. Mostly though she watches Simmone’s reaction.
Watches to see how the withdrawn pre-teen handles a stranger’s touch. To make sure she enjoys it. When she sees her tense the heiress takes a seat next to her, one cool hand resting on her sister’s leg reassuringly. She’s safe here. There are no monsters here that can hurt her.
The only monster in the room is Caroline, and she could never harm her sister.
GM: Simmone is tense the moment Celia starts working on her. Cécilia lays a hand on their sister’s shoulder. Many of the others, at least, don’t seem to notice: Stef and Autumn have their phones out as the esthetician works. Lucy and Mrs. Flores both watch the whole process, though, the latter with glowing and all-too evident pride.
After all, she is creating art.
It’s liberating to have such a quality canvas to work with. There’s only so pretty she can make flawed mortals, after all, before the Masquerade comes apart at the seems: before they become like unto butterflies emerged from ugly cocoons, and people gasp over how such a jaw-dropping transformation could even happen. Kenya had to be reborn as Alana to become as pretty as Celia made her. The stupid, ugly kine tie her hands.
But sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes she can work her art to heart’s content, painting and pampering already perfect flesh to make it divine. Like she did for Veronica, who might have tasked her with improving perfection as a cruel joke, only to have her dead breath stolen away when Celia did exactly that. Simmone looks radiant. Immaculate. Cherubic. Pristine.
Applause goes up from Lucy, Celia’s mother, and Cécilia as she finishes, which Autumn and Stef join in as they come up. The Toreador is showered with compliments, not the least of which are Simmone’s, whose earlier tension seems to evaporate like steam out of a sauna as she stares, entranced, at Celia’s work.
“Je ressemble à un ange!” she exclaims to her sisters. “Hou la la, comment a-t-elle fait ça?”
“That means she’s very happy and impressed,” Cécilia smiles at her former schoolmate. “Would you like to take pictures for your Instagram? I know you have a pretty large following.”
Caroline: “La magie prend de nombreuses formes ma chère. Mais cela aide lorsque vous êtes déjà magique,” Caroline answers, admiring Celia’s work, but more than anything taking in Simmone’s obvious joy.
GM: “Oh, that’s an excellent idea. We should definitely keep some pictures!” Celia’s mom chimes in.
Celia: The French goes over her head, though Celia recognizes the word “angel” at least. She cannot help but preen under their praise. Her clan might think that art is brushes on paper canvas or music fluttering through the air, but Celia knows the truth: true art is that which touches and transforms the souls of people, and Simmone has blossomed beneath her attention. Celia touches and the girl blooms.
She is all pleased and happy smiles for her hostesses, her mother, the others. A photo is a brilliant idea. She pulls a new phone from her pocket and unlocks it with a tap of her finger on the print scanner, then lines up Simmone for a shot.
Photo taken, her eyes turn toward the two elder Devillers girls as the phone disappears back into her pocket. Her gaze smolders, locking in on Caroline.
Caroline: “Are you ready to get started with the girls, Mrs. Flores?” Caroline asks, breaking her gaze from Simmone.
GM: “I think so! They all look like stars, it’d feel almost criminal not to dance and strut their stuff at this point,” Celia’s mom smiles.
Simmone’s hand shoots around Caroline’s.
Caroline: The monster’s hand is there waiting.
“Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas chérie?” she asks softly.
GM: “Je te veux ou Maman,” she entreats. “Ou Cécilia.”
Caroline: “Bien sûr le plus cher. L’un de nous sera là avec vous tout le temps,” Caroline answers gently.
Will you take the first bit? she sends to Cécilia.
GM: Of course. I think it’s better if we don’t have too many people crowding the lesson, anyways.
Simmone’s hand relaxes.
The other women and children politely don’t comment.
Caroline: Caroline lets Cécilia lead the girls to their lesson.
GM: “All right, y’all, we’re gonna start today’s lesson with positions, which are ways you hold your body,” Mrs. Flores explains as she and Cécilia head off with the children. “Basic ballet moves all start or end in one of five positions, or a slight tweak of them, so…”
Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016
Celia: Alone at last. Or… well. She looks over at Autumn.
GM: Autumn remains behind with her mistress.
Celia: Her lips press together. She wonders if this chit is as devoted to her mistress as Alana is to Celia. She doesn’t mean to conjure up the images, but there they are in her head.
GM: Who cares about a stupid sister next to her domitor? She’s not anywhere nearly as pretty.
Celia: Her very presence dims the room. It’s an assault to Celia’s senses. She’d have to overhaul the girl completely if she wanted to make her better, a full face lift.
Too much work. Celia turns her back to the ghoul to get the eyesore out of her line of vision.
GM: “Hey, Cécilia was right. I think I’ve seen your MeVid channel,” says Autumn.
“I got some good makeup tips from it.”
Celia: “Oh?” That gets her attention. She doesn’t turn away from Caroline, but her lips pull up in a smile. “I’m happy to hear that. I spent a lot of time learning how to edit the videos to get everything just right. More of a full-time job than the hobby people make it out to be.”
Caroline: “It makes a difference,” Caroline agrees. “I can’t stand the trashy half-baked videos most people put out.”
“The ones that are actually professionally done sparkle like diamonds in the sand.”
GM: “Yeah, it definitely is a full-time job,” Autumn agrees. “Lot of people who hire full-time assistants for it.”
Celia: Her eyes sparkle like diamonds at the compliment. She doesn’t know if Caroline has ever seen her videos or followed her Insta, but she’ll take what she can get from this golden-haired queen.
“I was considering the same,” she admits, “bringing someone on before it wears me out.”
“Beauty is a full time gig,” she says with a long sigh. “Though you don’t seem to have to worry about that, Caroline. God, I’d kill for that bone structure.”
GM: “That’s not a bad idea if you want to keep growing your brand online,” the ghoul agrees again.
Caroline: “Bringing in an assistant was the best thing I ever did,” Caroline laughs. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
She laughs lightly at the compliment, running a hand across her check and down under her chin. “We all have our crosses.”
Celia: “Hardly a burden,” Celia disagrees, “unless you’re fending off people with a bat.” Some use for that outside apartment, hm? “Perhaps I’ll see what my salon manager can whip up. But you…”
She doesn’t ask permission this time, not verbally. There’s just a gentle lift of her brows as her hands close in, the pad of her thumb soft against the Kindred’s jawline.
“If Simmone is silver, I’d drape you in gold. Put you on the pedestal where you belong.”
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth, her Beast half recoiling at the touch even as Celia’s words wash over her, stroking her ego.
It’s a shame Celia isn’t in college still. That she lives in the Quarter. That she already has so many ghouls. The compliments agree with her.
“Where I belong? Do you always lavish these kinds of compliments on your clients?” She seems amused, but pleasantly so.
Celia: “None of them look half so good as you, Caroline.”
She’s emboldened by the touch. She takes a step closer. Her hand slides around to the back of Caroline’s head, fingers running through her hair. How had she never noticed this dazzling beauty during all those years at political events? Eternity stretches before them now. No time like the present to make up for all those lost years.
GM: Autumn studies her phone.
Caroline: She shouldn’t let the kine get this close. Not when it’s so obvious that she’s not alive. When her body is so cool.
“Not until after they leave your salon, I’m sure.” She studies the other woman, her eyes dancing with interest. Is Celia really coming on to her?
Celia: She makes no comment to the coolness of her body, the papery feeling of her skin, the fact that Caroline is nothing but a walking corpse animated by whatever dark sorcery keeps them all from the grave. Celia’s heartbeat is clearly audible, her skin warm where she touches the taller girl. Her nerves flutter, though she does not shy away.
“Not even then.” Celia leans in. It’s an invasion of personal space, though the movement itself is slow enough to give her time to back away should she choose. Her Beast is tense with anticipation. Fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it knows. All it wants. And Caroline is in its sight.
Her eyes ask for the permission her lips don’t give voice to.
Caroline: Oscar Wilde once observed everything was about sex, except sex.
Caroline never would have entertained a same-sex relationship in life. In death her tastes shifted, expanded and narrowed both. Sex was about blood, and her tastes were specific.
Celia’s blood doesn’t suffice. It’s still blood, but she knows it’s far from the satisfying fair she wants. It doesn’t stir her Beast’s interest in a more than passing way—like a shark watching a minnow swim by—not worth the effort.
But sex isn’t about sex, as Oscar Wilde observed. It’s about power. And Celia’s attraction makes her feel very powerful.
What’s the worst that could happen?
She leans back into the shorter woman, the hints of points forming on her fangs even as their chests brush against each other. She drops her voice. “And you like beautiful things. Live for beautiful things?”
Celia: Celia finds herself nodding to the question. She does live for beautiful things. Beautiful things are what brought her here, to this place; they’re what made her life go so far off track in the first place. The beautiful goddess on the staircase. The beautiful monster under her sister’s bed. And now, here, this exquisite creature as well. What had she ever been nervous about?
“You’re not just beautiful, Caroline,” the words leave her in a whisper, “you’re so much more than that. Alluring. Divine. Enchanting.”
As if realizing the truth of those words, her gaze drops from Caroline’s eyes to her lips. She wants her. Needs her. Purveyor of beauty, isn’t that what she had said once?
Caroline: She hopes Autumn is taking notes from this exquisite mortal. Divine. Maybe she can find room for Celia in her retinue after all.
She leans in further, their bodies pressing against each other, her lips beside the shorter woman’s ear as she whispers, “You have no idea.”
Her lips move down, gently brushing their way down the side of Celia’s neck. Not quite kisses.
Celia: Maybe she says something. Maybe there’s a noise she makes, something encouraging. Something happy, Veronica would say. It could be Caroline’s touch that sends the shiver down her spine, or it could be the closeness to the corpse. Who’s to say?
GM: The kitchen door opens as Celia’s mom walks in. “Oh excuse me, have y’all seen my pho…”
She shuts up the moment she sees the two kissing women.
Caroline: The Ventrue breaks off, without shame, slowly but deliberately disentangling herself from Celia.
Celia: The moment is immediately ruined when Diana’s voice cuts through the fog in her mind. Her head snaps in her mother’s direction. She looks down at Caroline, then back at her mother.
Maybe the floor will open and swallow her.
GM: Her mother’s hands go to her mouth.
Celia: It isn’t what it looks like? They were… gossiping? With Caroline’s lips on her throat? That’s plausible, right? Secrets are better when they’re whispered.
GM: Her mom’s mouth opens behind her hands.
Nothing comes out.
Caroline: “Mrs. Flores,” Caroline says as her gaze sweeps the room languidly, “I do believe that might be your phone on the end of the counter.”
She hopes Autumn was wise enough to make herself scarce.
GM: Caroline doesn’t see her ghoul nearby.
Celia: “Um. You… ah, phone? Did you… pocket..?” the words die as Caroline speaks for them.
GM: “…yes. Yes, I suppose it must…” Celia’s mom finally manages.
She crosses the room. She picks up the phone.
Celia: Maybe she should step away from the source of all this.
She should probably step away.
She does so. Slides around the counter to put it between the two of them. She doesn’t manage to meet her mother’s eye.
This is worse, she thinks, than the family dinner when she was rolling on ecstasy.
GM: Maybe her mom is looking at her. Maybe she’s not. But her footsteps sound. She makes it most of the way back towards the kitchen door before she turns around and looks between the two. Her hand re-covers her mouth.
She looks as if she’s about to cry.
Caroline isn’t particularly attached to the obviously closeted Celia’s relationship with her mother, but it simply won’t do to have Mrs. Flores this upset when she goes back to the lesson with her sister.
GM: “Celia, baby… I’ll always love you… but this is not a healthy choice,” she whispers in a pained voice, slowly shaking her head.
Celia: She thinks about calling out to her mother. Thinks about what will happen if she doesn’t, if Diana causes some sort of something with the Devillers’ youngest daughter. Someone had told her about the monster who lived here putting a girl in a wheelchair for a stolen diary. She doesn’t want to imagine what will happen if her mother causes a problem.
“Mom, I… can explain..?”
“Is your lesson over?”
GM: “God will judge you, Celia.”
Tears start to trickle down her mother’s face.
“I will always, always love you. But God will judge you.”
Celia: “Momma. I didn’t… we didn’t…” Celia gestures between herself and Caroline.
She doesn’t know what to say. ‘It isn’t what it looks like,’ ’we’re both dead,’ ‘Kindred don’t see gender’ doesn’t seem like it will go over well.
Caroline: The Ventrue watches the exchange. It’s bittersweet, seeing another family with their own problems. Reassuring in some ways.
The Germans, she knows, have a word for what she’s feeling: schadenfreude. Pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.
GM: Celia’s mother is full-on crying now.
“Don’t do this to yourself, Celia. I love you. Please, please don’t do this.”
Caroline: The Ventrue reaches out through the midnight-black thread tying her to her family.
Please keep the girls occupied for a few minutes, Caroline sends to her sister. There’s a… small hiccup here.
GM: All right. I’d ask if I could help, but it sounds like that’s how.
Celia: Irritation surges through Celia. How dare she? She, who let a black man defile her. She, who carried two rape babies to term. She, who lived in squalor rather than stand up to the abusive piece of shit she catered to for twelve years. She dares judge Celia?
Her movements are quick and precise as she begins to pack up her belongings.
“It seems I’m overstaying. I’ll get out of your hair, Caroline. Please ask your sister her forgiveness for not saying goodbye personally.”
Caroline: Suddenly it’s there, in the room with the three of them. Overpowering. Overwhelming. Inescapable. A monster stalking among the kine. It pulls at their awareness, tears at their inhibition’s, wears at their objections.
Her gaze rolls to Mrs. Flores, meeting the older woman’s gaze even as it is drawn to her like a moth to the flame. “I must have missed something, Mrs. Flores.”
GM: Celia’s mother instantly looks towards her, mouth caught open in mid-response to her daughter.
Celia: It hits her. The wave that Caroline—for it can only be Caroline—sends out. Her knees threaten to buckle. Not from any desire to please, but from fear. Her mother is so fragile. So breakable. She knows what their kind can do. Her eyes are drawn toward the blonde almost against her will.
Caroline: “I’m not certain what you think you came in on,” she begins, reaching out with her will to smooth over the older woman’s perceptions and working her control into her mind.
She’s had more than enough practice to know that the best lies are the ones that someone won’t strain against. That have something in common with the truth. A twisting of feelings and perceptions instead of a complete overwriting of it. Move the pieces around.
“But Celia had nothing to do with the kiss you saw Autumn and I sharing when you came in. She was in the restroom and only just got back.”
GM: Mrs. Flores closes her mouth with a glazed look to her eyes.
Her features slowly calm.
Celia: Her eyes close. She’s next. She’s next, she’s next, she’s next. She has to be next. There’s no way Caroline can explain what she just did to her mother. She thinks Celia is like them, the kine, the ordinary folk. To not worm her way into her mind now would be a slipup. At best, her mind is wiped of this display. At worst, everything else is found out.
She could run. She should run. Back to the Quarter. Back to safety.
Leave her mother here with these monsters. Her daughter, too.
She is a terrible, terrible person.
She looks down at the bags. They don’t seem as important now.
Caroline: “You should go back to the lesson,” Caroline tells the dance teacher suggestively.
Celia: If she finishes packing and heads to the door will anyone notice? Maybe she can use the cover of her mother’s exit to bolt.
And be chased down outside. All those guns. She’d seen them on the way in.
The last of her tools are zipped inside the bag.
GM: Mrs. Flores blinks slowly as the impression sinks in.
But the esthetician can’t help but note.
Her face is messed up from the crying.
Celia: She doesn’t look at Caroline. She can’t look at Caroline.
“Momma,” Celia calls out. “You’ve smudged, a little. Why don’t I fix that for you before you go back.”
GM: “…oh. Okay, sweetie,” her mother answers slowly.
“Yes. Yes, please.”
She keeps her gaze fixed on Celia, but her eyes still seem to slide towards Caroline.
Celia: There’s nothing pleasant about this get-together now. She should have left the moment she’d seen Caroline at the door. Her mind races: excuses to leave, rationalizing what she’d seen Caroline do, something that will keep the Ventrue out of her mind. Her very presence is calling to Celia, even while she does her damndest to ignore it.
Fixing her mother’s makeup is quick work. She wipes away the black lines of mascara and smudged liner and fixes the tear tracks and puffy under eyes with concealer. She doesn’t say anything while she works, aware that Caroline is right there and probably listening. A fresh coat of waterproof mascara finishes the job. It takes less than two minutes.
“Call me when you get home, Momma, okay?” Celia kisses her cheek. Some assurance, at least, that the woman will make it out of this.
GM: Celia’s mom hugs her back. Her hugs are normally very tight and long, but there’s an almost…
It feels like the hugs she gave when she was in the hospital.
“Oh, but wait, sweetie,” she manages with an utterly at odds and almost fake-feeling smile, “I baked you some snickerdoodles, to take home… they’re in my bag.”
Caroline can’t recall Claire ever baking cookies for her.
Caroline: The Ventrue watches patiently as Celia tends to her mother’s makeup. Wonders what must be going through the kine’s mind. She’s smart enough not to make a scene at least, so Caroline will give her some props. On the other hand, the fun of the moment is gone, sucked away. It’s her own fault. It always is.
The heiress let her amusements get in the way of her family, in the way of her duties, and it ended badly. Like it always does. Stupid. Unbecoming.
She should have known better. Did know better.
Celia: “Why don’t we go get them, Momma? I’m on my way out. I can’t wait to dive into the snickerdoodles.”
There’s no good way out of this. Will Caroline make a scene if Celia bolts? Of course she will; she’d shown that she is already willing to force her way into the minds around her. Isn’t this how it had gone last time, too? I’m fast.
Not fast enough.
“It’ll just be—”
Caroline: “Perhaps you should wait a moment, Celia. You can grab them on the way out later as the lesson wraps up,” Caroline interjects, her presence still oppressive in the room. “There’s a few things we still need to talk about.”
GM: “Ah. All right. You can grab ‘em when we’re done, sweetie,” Celia’s mother demurs.
That decides that.
GM: “Thanks for fixin’ my makeup, sweetie. You make me look flawless as always,” her mom offers with a weak chuckle.
“I should… get to the lesson.”
She sees herself out with a final, half-averted glance back towards Caroline.
Caroline: Caroline waits for the elder Flores to depart the room and gestures to the high stools on the opposite end of the island from her. “Please.”
She moves around the kitchen, fishes a pair of long-stemmed wine glasses from a cabinet, and a bottle of white from the refrigerator. She deftly pops the cork and pours for each of them.
Celia: Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need that does nothing for her. She watches her mother disappear out the door. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye, though she moves around the island to the offered stool. She hovers rather than sit, eyes still downcast. How long can she stare at these countertops?
Caroline: She slides one of the glasses across the island to Celia and sighs, the overwhelming presence receding to just her radiant one.
“She doesn’t know?” she asks at last, swirling the wine in the glass.
Celia: Doesn’t know that she’s dead? That she sold out her family? That she regularly visits with a monster?
No, that can’t be what she’s asking. Celia has done nothing to arouse her suspicions. She focuses on the glass. Caroline wouldn’t be offering wine if she knew. It hits her, then.
She thinks I’m gay.
She seizes the excuse, shaking her head as she sinks finally onto the stool. This, at least, is safe. She wipes at nonexistent tears to keep her hands busy.
“No,” she says. “She… none of them do.”
Caroline: The heiress nods. “I can see why. She didn’t seem to take that very well.”
She takes a sip of her wine.
“That’s hard. Lying to family members about who you are.”
GM: At least she still said she’d love Celia.
Dad still hasn’t so much as called.
Celia: “I never wanted to hurt her, but what she wants… it’s just not me,” Celia says. There’s a hint of a flush on her cheeks. She looks so young, despite the fact that they are the same age. So uncertain. “Sorry, I… it’s not worth getting upset about, right? She’s just old fashioned.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I think it’s perfectly worth getting upset over. Getting rejected for who you are by people that you love is never easy.”
“Trust me, I know.”
Celia: She does know, doesn’t she? For all that she’s done and been, Celia hasn’t really had to face that issue just yet. Carefully concocted lies have let her avoid the worst of it. She sniffs, staring down at her wine glass.
“I shouldn’t have been so forward, it was…” she can’t say the word. “Silly. I don’t even… I barely know you.” She gestures vaguely toward where Caroline sits across from her.
Caroline: “What’s that phrase? It takes two?” Caroline answers.
Celia: “Something about a tango,” Celia supplies.
Caroline: “Another woman I think said two, ‘to make a thing go right.’” Caroline smiles weakly.
Celia: “Was that a woman? I’d always assumed it was a very high-pitched male. Like, ah, Michael Jackson as a child.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs more genuinely. “More well-known for the remake, but the original was Lyn Collins.”
“But that’s neither here nor there. So, are you just going to keep things hidden forever? That part of yourself?”
Celia: “I was planning on it. I have a… cover.”
She thinks of Randy. She thinks, too, of this entire persona that she wears, and the one she didn’t don tonight. How different they are.
“I mean… you know what it’s like, you said, it’s… it’s not worth it, right? There would be too much fallout.”
Caroline: A nod. “There can be. My father hasn’t spoken to me since he found out. Mind you, it wasn’t in the best of ways, and he had other considerations.”
Celia: “I wish my father wouldn’t speak to me. Or send my brother to speak with me. Or play his mind games. Trade you,” she offers.
Caroline: Caroline pauses, then seemingly decides to go ahead. “Is she his?”
Celia: Anything she was about to say is abruptly cut off. Her entire body shudders at the question, face closing off. For a long moment, she doesn’t speak. Anything she says here can have far-reaching consequences. For herself. For her daughter. For her mother.
She shakes her head, emphatic. “No. No, of course not.”
Perhaps it’s telling, how her eyes don’t meet Caroline’s. How long the pause was. How eager she seems to assure Caroline that Lucy is, in fact, not Maxen’s daughter.
Caroline: Caroline falls silent.
“I’m sorry,” she says at last.
“For everything you went through with him. For everything your mother went through. For everything your sister went through.”
She sets down her glass.
Celia: “I can hardly lay the blame at your feet. You didn’t turn him into what he is. You didn’t do anything worth apologizing for.” She trails a finger around the stem of her glass. She still hasn’t looked up. “But… thank you.”
Caroline: “My father had a part. In covering it all up. I’m sure you must know. Many people played a part in covering up his excesses. Many people benefited from them, from the holds they gave others over him.”
“I had a part in it. I benefited from it.”
“If nothing else, I knew about it and did nothing.”
Celia: Her words are met by silence.
This is not the conversation she had expected to have.
How long had she blamed herself? How long had she thought that it was her fault, all of it, every decision she had ever made, starting with that one dangerous idea that she could stand up to her father? Choosing Emily over her mother. Emmett over Stephen. Monsters over men in uniforms. And then him, the man in the shadows, the voice in her dreams. Him above it all. Untouchable on the pedestal where she has placed him. No one else comes close. But here, now, Caroline offers the words of an apology for a long ago crime. Celia had known that he couldn’t do it himself, but to hear the girl so blatantly admit what she did, what her father did.
Her response, when it comes, is a hollow laugh.
“You warned me. That day in school. Entire teams, you said, tens of thousands of dollars. How many others? How many others sat idly by while that man terrorized my family? How many people benefit from the corruption at the heart of our party?”
She shakes her head.
“Don’t tell me. It doesn’t matter. If you want to make amends, Caroline, truly make amends, give back whatever it is you benefited. Start a fund. A shelter. A scholarship. Something. Just give it back. That bastard does not deserve to win.”
Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “That’s the logic everyone uses.”
“That it’ll be better on the other side, that you can do more in the future. That you can make up for it. But you never really make up for it. You just keep falling further and further into darkness until it swallows you up. One day you look up and you can’t tell who the monsters are because you’ve become one.”
Celia: “So we do nothing? Let the darkness win? Become the monsters willingly?”
GM: Dad always said the Democrats were just as bad.
Caroline: “I don’t know what you should do,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend to tell you how you should live your life. We all have to make our own choices.”
She gestures between them. “This is mine. Well, one of them.”
Celia: “Apologizing for long ago transgressions over wine?”
Pretend that makes it all okay.
Caroline: She shrugs. “People matter more to me than principles.”
Celia: “And yet you crush them on command.”
Caroline: “Depends on the people,” Caroline admits. “A stranger? Absolutely. Perhaps more than ever.”
She takes another sip of her wine. “I’m sorry, this must be very uncomfortable for you. Honestly… well. It’s as selfish as anything.”
“I don’t get very many opportunities to talk with other people that understand what it’s like. Hiding who you are. Issues with fathers. Family problems in general.”
“It’s not easy wearing a mask.”
Celia: She almost laughs. How well she knows that feeling. Perhaps, if Caroline had stayed in the Quarter, they might have been something like friends. If such a thing can even exist in their society.
“Truer words have not been spoken.” Does she want forgiveness? She will not have it from Celia. “Wear it too long and you don’t know what’s real anymore.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “It has to come off eventually, or you start to become the person you’re pretending to be.”
GM: Are things all right, Caroline? Mrs. Flores feels a little off.
Caroline: She walked in when Celia and I were being very…. friendly with each other.
GM: Oh, I see. I would ask that you not feed on the Floreses, if it’s not any trouble. Celia is a friend and her mom has taught us for years and years.
Caroline: She came onto me, Caroline answers defensively.
GM: She did? That’s strange. There’s puzzlement, but not doubt.
Caroline: Her mother was unpleasantly surprised. I thought it better for everyone if she remembered something a little less… personal.
GM: There’s some feeling of apprehension across the bond. Caroline remembers Celia not wanting to tamper with her fiancé’s mind either.
I’ll admit that makes me uncomfortable. If this is who Celia is, I think that might be best left between her and her mother how they deal with it.
Caroline: Maybe, Caroline sends. But I keep enough secrets of my own that I can respect someone else’s.
She doesn’t add that she won’t let her own lack of self-control cause a scene at an event for her youngest sister. Cécilia can read her well enough to read between the lines.
I was gentle.
GM: Okay. Do you think this is going to be an issue in the future, so far as Celia?
Caroline: Not with me, comes Caroline’s clipped response.
GM: I’m sorry, I meant from her. Caroline feels the apology as much as she hears it.
I’m okay if you and she are interested in each other in that way, too. But Celia shouldn’t act on it while she’s here in a professional capacity.
Though maybe that could have been more clear to her. I don’t think it was established that we were paying her. Her mom had just suggested that she come along.
We do pay Mrs. Flores for the lessons, so things are pretty professional between us.
Caroline: Call it a moment of weakness, Caroline answers. I shouldn’t have let it come that far.
GM: You’ve wanted to find someone after Jocelyn. You deserve to find someone, too.
Celia: “Indeed. Sometimes I wonder who I am anymore.”
Now seems like a good time to go. While Caroline is… distracted? Something is making those wheels turn inside her head (her pretty head, Celia still thinks), and Celia would prefer to not be her focus. Too much rides on keeping this identity secret and she’s been careless enough with it, especially considering the location. Vidal’s personal territory. What was she thinking coming here? Hadn’t she pressed her luck enough by venturing into Tulane? Perhaps some good will come of this: she can use the interaction as an excuse to never, ever come back.
“For what it’s worth, Caroline, I would have very much liked for this to happen.” Celia gestures between the two of them. She sounds sincere. “There are just too many complications were we both to remove our masks.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh. “You have no idea how right you are.”
Her expression turns contemplative. “You haven’t asked what I did to your mother.”
“I assume, as a senator’s former wife, she understood the implicit threat in… making a public scene, and that your words reminded her of the proper decorum.”
Caroline: “If it was that easy, my life would be far less complicated,” Caroline answers.
“Your secret is safe, at least one more night, from her.”
Celia: She’s going to cause a scene. This fledgling is going to cause a scene and reveal things she shouldn’t, and it puts Celia at risk. She studies the granite countertop. She tries to keep the wariness from her voice.
“Then you have my thanks.”
Caroline: The Ventrue looks at Celia’s case. “It would have been better if you’d finished, but I can fake something with what Cécilia has on hand. I hope you’ll forgive me for a passable job with your name on it.”
Celia: “The… makeup?” Her brows draw together. “You want me to finish your look.”
Or she wants an excuse for Celia to stick around. That shouldn’t exhilarate her as much as it does. She tells herself the feeling fluttering through her is from being found out in this area, not the quiet promise behind the other’s words.
Or it’s a threat, and Caroline thinks she can quietly dispose of her. Ha.
Caroline: Caroline taps her fingers on the counter. “If you’re willing, that would be best.” It’s the little details that mess with people’s memories, that unravel the entire tapestry.
Celia: She is willing. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she knows staying inside of the Garden District is nothing but trouble, but… her mom is here. Lucy is here. She can’t just leave them, not when the only other witnesses to their presence tonight are a ghoul and Caroline’s sisters. And it’s… Caroline. Months old. She’d been intimidated by the blonde when they were mere mortals, but this? Here? She should be at home here. She’s been at it far longer. She’s faced down bigger, scarier things than Caroline Malveaux-Devillers and survived to talk about it.
What’s the worst that could happen?
“I can stay.”
Her jaw moves as she considers her words. Finally, she asks, “Are you going to hypnotize me as well?”
“I’ve seen those shows, you know. On Webflix. Power of suggestion and all that.”
Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline admits without shame. “It’s better if your memories and hers match.”
Celia: She could remove her eyes. Keep her from ever using that particular ability again. It would be a simple touch to get it right, and her hands will already be near her face. How many people will she need to mow down to get to the door once Caroline starts screaming? Let it happen, maybe. She’s played that role before. It will protect her secrets, at least. ‘Celia’ would be safe.
“I remember walking in on you kissing Autumn,” she says slowly. “I was on my way back from the restroom.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue the point with her. There’s no value in it. She could reassure her, tell her that she’s not going to go digging in her mind, but she doesn’t think those things would have been terribly reassuring to her.
Caroline considers eavesdropping on the woman’s thoughts, but she’s already hurt her enough, will already violate her privacy enough.
“We can be quick, if this is making you uncomfortable. Well… more uncomfortable.”
Celia: “What if I don’t want to forget you?”
Caroline: “It was better that your mother walked in,” Caroline answers.
Celia: What will she be giving up? Almost kissing Caroline? That’s not so bad, is it? She has other beautiful monsters to occupy her thoughts at night. Her hands move on the countertop, unrolling the makeup bag. The products are waiting within.
“Because you don’t find me suitable, or because you do?”
Caroline: Her eyes linger on the kine. God, it feels good to be desired. But Caroline has already basked in that glow once, and flying so close to the sun has left her more than pink.
“Both?” Caroline answers after a moment. “It would be a beautiful disaster, but it would still be a disaster.”
Just like Jocelyn.
Celia: “I’m more durable than you might think. The scandal with my father saw to that.”
He had told her it had made her strong, the years of abuse. She suspects he just didn’t care enough to make it stop.
“Perhaps that alarms you. The children of abusers often grow up to abuse others, don’t they?” She lifts her chin, though her eyes remain on the products before her. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”
Caroline: “Rather the opposite, I suspect,” Caroline replies.
Celia: “You’re worth the risk.”
Caroline: “Am I? You were alone with me for five minutes and we reduced your mother to tears.” The wavering that was present at first is falling away.
Celia: “You forget I’ve known you most of my life. All those years with our dads at events. Do you think tonight was the first time I’ve had these thoughts? You’re brilliant. Captivating. Enchanting. More than that… this,” Celia gestures between the two of them, “you get it. You know. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not around you because you know what it’s like with our families.”
“Even if I have to give up the rest of it… I wouldn’t want to give up that connection.”
“Would you, now that you’ve found it?”
Caroline: Years? Caroline wonders what it’s like to carry a torch like that. She supposes she’ll find out.
“You don’t have to pretend around me, Celia. Won’t have to,” Caroline answers.
But that’s a lie, isn’t it? She’s still wearing a mask here. And a mask under that one.
Celia was right. You wear a mask so long, you forget what’s underneath.
Celia: The island is the only thing separating the two of them. That, and the lies they’ve both told, a mountain of them that separates the two: alive. Normal. Two girls from fucked-up families trying to make it in this world. Would it be easier if she were to just admit the truth of things, or would that result in being dragged before the proverbial throne to be dealt with as an interloper? Even Caroline’s offer—won’t have to worry about pretending—doesn’t set her at ease. She wishes that it did. That she could take off the mask, the one under that, the one under that. That her brain would cease compartmentalizing everything she looked at into two categories: threat vs non-threat. Get the upper hand. Survive. Fight, fuck, feed. That’s all the Beast wants.
Celia would be set at ease though, wouldn’t she? If she were truly the human she pretends to be now.
She forces herself to breathe. To keep up appearances. She picks up a brush, a bottle of liquid pigment, and slides around the counter. Within reach. Right into the arms of the waiting monster. As if this is nothing more than chatter at the salon. As if her dead heart isn’t beating in time to her thoughts, pitter-patter inside her chest. Liar, liar.
She pumps the top of the bottle onto the back of her hand and dips the brush into the foundation. She hesitates, not yet touching it to her skin. Her eyes finally meet Caroline’s.
“Can I confess, then?”
Caroline: The island is too wide to reach across easily, so she comes around.
Not too close, but not so far away.
She tilts her head. “There are worse things you could do,” Caroline answers, settling into another of the stools, her eyes on Celia.
Celia: That response draws a smirk from Celia.
“I can think of plenty worse things.” Actually confessing, for one. “I’m afraid that if I told you the truth you wouldn’t like me very much.”
Caroline: That draws a smirk of its own. Oh yes, what darkness do you hide Celia? She’s certain the other woman can scarily imagine the darkness inside Caroline.
“Taking the words out of my mouth now?” Caroline asks, her blue eyes amused.
Celia: “You’ve got me,” Celia grins, “I’m hoping to trick you into confessing something devious. Is it working?”
She looks down at the brush in her hand. She reaches for a bottle instead, pumping a small amount onto her fingers, and with a raised brow closes the distance between them. The gel is cool to the touch and smells faintly of oranges. Celia applies it to Caroline’s face with a light touch. Moisturizer. It won’t do much in the long term for dead skin, but it’ll allow everything else to go on that much smoother. She had said she’d set Caroline up with a routine.
Caroline: “Devious?” Caroline doesn’t shake her head while Celia works, but she’d like to. Her eyes are distant, looking past Celia as she continues, “Necessary, mostly. Turning a blind eye to your father was hardly my gravest sin. I wanted to play the game, wanted to be part of the club. They played hard.”
“You made the right choice, getting away from it.”
Celia: Celia is quiet a moment, eyes focusing on what she does, on the color she mixes on the back of her hand to match Caroline’s complexion. Brush back in hand, she makes the first swipe across the Ventrue’s jawline. Then another, just above it. And all around her face, dipping back into the puddle of color whenever the bristles run dry.
“That night at Tulane,” Celia says, finally, “when you stopped that girl from calling the police. Did you know, even then, that it was my father who did that to me?” The broken arm. The bloody dress.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “Not then. But I did when you came back in the morning. Or at least suspected.”
Celia: Something like grief clenches inside her. People had known and done nothing.
“When I was twelve he took my makeup away from me. He told me that boys would look at me differently, like it was my fault. My mom, though, she had stockpiles of concealer that she smuggled in before the divorce. I thought, at the time, she was just indulging her daughter. Now I know what he was doing to her. To Isabel. To Sophia, and the boys.”
She paints a picture with her words alongside the one she paints on Caroline’s face, blended and buffed and polished until there’s no telling where her skin ends and the makeup begins. Truth and lies, who can tell the difference?
“Getting out was the best choice.”
“He wants to meet her. Lucy. His ‘granddaughter.’ My brother told me when we spoke last.”
This, at least, is not a poison-filled lie. This is something she hasn’t brought up with Emily or her mother, hasn’t had the courage to. But Caroline’s family, to hear her tell, is just as broken. Maybe she knows the proper course.
Caroline: “You don’t owe him anything,” Caroline answers softly.
What pathetic advice, coming from her. Caroline, who spent her whole life trying to please her father. Who’s spent her Requiem trying to impress her sire.
“Unless you want something from him.”
Celia: “For a long time I just wanted his death. To make him suffer. To take away everything he loved and watch it burn. To ruin him, so he’d be cast out.”
Caroline had told her that. Create enough scandal and his own party would turn their backs on him. She’d even managed to do it.
“And now Logan… Logan says that he’s proud of me. That he’s impressed by what I’ve created with the spa. That he misses me.”
What she’d give to hear those words about him.
“How can you want someone so much when they’re the one who destroyed you?”
Caroline: “When you associate love with abuse long enough, abuse feels like love.”
She knows the feeling too well.
“Childhood trauma is like any other childhood injury—if you don’t fix it when you’re young, it stays with you forever. Like a bone never reset.”
“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”
Celia: “I read a poem once about a girl whose mother offered her a sugar cube. She put it in her mouth and crunched down, and it was salt. That is what abuse is: knowing you are going to get salt, but still hoping for sugar for nineteen years.”
“Your wings, too, Caroline?” Spoken more softly than before, though no pity in her voice. Just gentle understanding.
Caroline: “We are what we are,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend we had the same experience. Just the same outcome.”
Well, almost the same. Celia’s still breathing. Has her daughter.
“If you need his approval… after everything… well.” She smiles, but it’s not a happy smile. “Who am I to blame you?”
After all, she always has…
Celia: She had maybe expected a story from Caroline. Something to bring them closer, to bridge the distance between them. Two girls from the same background, and here they are on opposite sides of a war that began long before either of them were ever conceived. Perhaps Celia does her a disservice by withholding the full truth.
But her comment, wings, gives life to the Toreador’s hands. They are not a blur, but each motion that she makes now is precise. It starts with the eyes. She had said, earlier, that neutrals would not do for children. But Caroline is not a child; Caroline is a woman grown, a woman died, a predator in her place. If Caroline’s family took her wings then Celia will give them back to her.
She begins. White across the lid, then bronze, then gold with warm undertones, no yellow to detract. Darker brown—the color of the bare branches in the dead of winter—in the corners, then beneath the eyes. Smudged, blended, turned up toward the brow’s tail. No black; black will wash her out. Black is too severe, too angry. This Caroline is not angry. This Caroline is a sculpted goddess who has waited long years to be acknowledged, who will destroy everything in her path and do it with a smile, who will fight, tooth and nail, to take what is hers. She is severe, but she will not look severe. She will look alive. She will look as she should were her heart to beat in truth, not this pale echo.
A pot of taupe pomade fills in her brows, tiny little strokes that mimic the growth of her hairs. Bronzer, where the sun should touch but never will. Contour at the sides of her chin, the hollows of her cheeks. Celia sculpts her face as easily with powder as she would with her own fingers. Less permanent, no less striking. Blush along the cheekbones to lift her face. Then the highlight: cupid’s bow, beneath the tail of her brows, the bridge of her nose, a light dusting just above the blush.
Blend. Blend, blend, blend. Blend until it is smooth. Until each color fades into the next. Until there is no telling death from life, truth from lies, love from abuse.
And the wings. They start at the corners of her eyes and lift up, a clean line of dark pigment sharp enough to cut a man.
She finishes with color on the dead girl’s lips, swipes it on with a deft flick of her brush.
She had promised to drape her in gold, and so she has. Her eyes sparkle out from her face, given light and life by the powders and creams Celia set upon her. Some women apply makeup, dresses, or accessories and think they are wearing it, when the truth is it is wearing them. Celia does not make that mistake. She has taken every perfection of Caroline’s and amplified it tenfold. It is Caroline on steroids. Caroline on the pedestal Celia promised. Caroline, golden queen.
She holds out the mirror and her breath, waiting.
Caroline: Caroline waits as the other woman (what a joke, she’s not a woman anymore) falls into silence in her work. She’s seen the look in Celia’s eyes before. The focus. An artist at work. It’s something she can admire.
She wonders for a moment if she’s said something wrong, and then perhaps if that’s for the best. There’s no future with a kine. Cannot be any future with a kine. Even if she weren’t the childe of the prince.
So she waits, the shorter woman’s firm but gentle hands on her face, her delicate brushes. She thinks the last time she had an experience like this was before her prom. It just always seemed…. indulgent. And it is. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy it.
She worries for a moment that Celia is caking on too much, going over the top, but doesn’t interrupt. She waits, until she sees the finished product.
For a moment she doesn’t recognize herself. She’s grown accustomed to seeing the same face every night in the mirror, but darker. More monstrous. Changing for the worse, but not changing at all.
This face is someone else’s. It’s not the face of the haughty heiress she was in life. It’s not the face of the naïve fledgling. It’s not the face Caroline, who has scrapped and clawed and fought her way to her teetering, precarious position on such a high ledge.
And yet… it is her face. It’s fierce and regal. It’s refined and sharp. It’s the face of an empress, not an heiress. Of a goddess, not a warrior. The face of who she wants to be. Of who she’s always wanted to be in the eyes of everyone.
It’s a face she wants to see in the mirror every night.
She holds the mirror in a death grip.
She explores a smile and likes the look of it, before finally lowing the mirror to look at Celia once more.
“It’s breathtaking,” she finally admits to Celia.
Celia: She recognizes that look. Veronica had worn the same the night she’d tasked Celia with the impossible: improve perfection. She had done it then. She has done it again now.
Her smile spills across her face, unrestrained, to lift the corners of her eyes in something that might be true joy.
“It’s you.” Celia reaches forward to touch her finger to where Caroline’s heart should beat. “What’s in here.”
Caroline: Caroline knows that’s not quite true. That what’s inside her is the pitch black of bubbling tar, blackness that might one day swallow the stars. But the sentiment matters. That someone sees her as more than what she is.
She’s silent for a long moment.
Then, “Thank you.”
Celia: It’s an easy transition for her hand to move from heart to the back of her neck, the same position that got them into trouble earlier. The stool is sturdy enough for two, and Celia has always liked laps. She slides onto Caroline’s without a word of warning. As if she belongs.
Caroline: Celia can feel the tension in Caroline as she makes contact, feel the steel enter her spine, the stiffness of a corpse.
This is a bad idea, but the kine is so soft, so eager.
She promised herself she wouldn’t succumb, but look at how the kine looks at her. Look what she’s done for her.
Caroline bites her lower lip, the fangs too obvious. One hand circles the other kine’s back, rests on her hip.
She doesn’t remove her.
She told Cécilia she wouldn’t do this. Told her this wouldn’t be a problem.
“This is a bad idea,” she breathes in Celia’s ear.
Celia: “It is,” Celia agrees, though she doesn’t make a move to displace herself. She settles in instead, one arm around Caroline’s shoulders, the other lifting to stroke the back of her hand across her cheek.
“Someone could walk in at any moment and see me draped over a beautiful Kindred and wonder why they aren’t so lucky.”
Caroline: Caroline’s dead heart skips a beat, but she doesn’t immediately react.
Ghoul? She could see it, a Toreador as enamored with Celia’s talents as Caroline is. They’re famous for abandoning their ghouls when the next thing comes along, too. It would explain her lack of shock, how hard she came on when she knew what Caroline was.
She can see it. She’s certainly put on a hell of an audition if she’s looking for a new domitor.
But no ghoul has ever been quite so comfortable around a strange lick before, have they?
The fangs are out now. Her other hand reaches up under Celia’s arm to stroke her neck, to caress her throat.
“What a wicked game you’ve played…. how long have you known?”
Celia: Her eyes close at the touch, breath stuttering to a halt before it begins again. A better reaction than she could have hoped for. Caroline either has exceptional control, or Celia’s lack of predatory smell has kept her Beast in check.
“I didn’t mean to deceive you. You opened the door and I panicked,” she admits.
Caroline: Several possibilities flow through her mind. That the timing on this is too coincidental, but are dismissed just as quickly. Cécilia has been planning for some time. This was no impromptu opportunity. The margins on inserting a dagger into her family here are too small.
She turns her senses to the girl in her arms more fully, more fiercely. Sends the Beast sniffing about. She has to know.
And just like that the illusion falls to pieces. Or, perhaps, she tears it to pieces. The woman might be fooled, but the Beast recognizes its own. She doesn’t have a harmless kine in her arms, but another predator. Another monster.
An oh-so alluring one.
If the woman was conflicted about what to do, the Beast is not. It knows what to do when it sees another predator: its list is short. The decision is easy.
This lovely thing that wanted her kiss so. That flattered it, that tempted it. It gets what it wants.
Caroline’s arms tense around Celia, no longer caressing, instead controlling. Establishing what the Beast always wants: control.
Her fingers tighten around the other vampire’s throat even as she traces a fang down Celia’s back, hard. Hard enough to part skin with its razor sharpness, to set the room alive with a smell far sweeter than Caroline had previously imagined.
“And all this?” she hisses, pausing to lick lightly at the flowing vitae. “Was this foreplay for you?”
Celia: She knows the moment the jig is up. It’s there in the way Caroline’s arms tighten around her, the sudden stiffness that wasn’t there moments ago. Celia goes absolutely, perfectly still, even while her Beast rages inside of her. It’s mindless, it wants out, but Celia has survived this long by keeping it tightly lidded. Still, when her skin splits she lets its growl be heard.
“You told me not to pretend with you.” Her voice is husky, fangs long in her mouth.
Caroline: “I meant it,” Caroline answers with a hint of iron, her fingers digging into Celia even as she runs her tongue along the length of the wound she’s opened, lapping up the slow-flowing vitae. Those fingers dig into the other vampire’s throat, into her hip, around to her inner thigh. Almost clawing at her.
Celia: Her body shifts at Caroline’s touch, thighs parting beneath her steel fingers to drape herself more fully across the blonde. Pliant. Willing. The tension leaves her shoulders, head tilting—if it can—to let her get at what she wants. The noise she makes might be a whine; she wants to play, too.
Caroline: The Beast wants to throw her down, to take her violently on the island. To discover if she’s as willing as she seems. She fights it.
Something nagging at the back of her mind. Her sisters are here. Celia’s mother. Her daughter. People could walk in.
The should stop. Every word.
There’s a flash. They’re in another room. A door slams shut behind them. She shoves Celia off her, down—she’s falling—but she lands on something soft. A bed. The fangs in Caroline’s mouth loom.
“Show me,” she hisses as she falls on the dark-haired beauty.
Celia: Falling. She remembers the sensation of falling. The world going out from beneath her. The rush of wind, her dress floating, strong arms around her. This bed is softer than the water that shattered her. Softer than the rooftop.
Show me. Another way of saying ‘prove it.’ A challenge from this goddess that towers over her.
She loves a challenge.
Quick as a tabby, she’s out from underneath Caroline, clawing and hissing and springing onto her to sink her teeth into any available skin. Clothing rips beneath her hands, hangs in tatters from her frame. She’d learned the art of Kindred fucking from Veronica, mistress of pain, but Celia had never liked the pain. She’d liked the control. The power. Been drawn to it, ensnared by it. The Beast recognizes it, respects it, wants it.
She comes on like a storm.
Caroline: She finds Caroline waiting. Caroline, who has never not been in control with another Kindred. But just as obviously inexperienced. Instinctual.
Are they fighting? Are they fucking? More the former. She writhes under Celia’s kiss and heedlessly sinks her fangs into her whenever she wants.
Inner arm. Wrist. Inner thigh. She drinks like she’s dying of thirst from the source. She pulls hard on Celia’s hair to bare her throat and triumphantly penetrates her. Conquers her.
She offered herself up, and Caroline can’t resist. Doesn’t want to resist. But like all good worshipers she’s rewarded in turn. A wrist. A thigh. An inner arm. Finally, the Ventrue bares her slender pale throat, pulling Celia to her breast and nuzzling her against herself.
Celia: Fighting, fucking, pain, pleasure: it all blurs together once the fangs come out, a chorus of snarls, growls, and hissing their constant companion in the otherwise silent room. They are two beasts set upon each other, woe to all in their wake. Caroline wants to be worshiped? Celia will be her priestess and offering both.
When it’s over she’s covered in the typical bite and claw marks, her body stained red with blood. Hers, Caroline’s, it doesn’t matter; she’d ended up on her back, not a match in a brawl even against this fledgling. Some part of her nurses her wounded pride, but most of her rides the high. Her Beast is sated, glutted on blood and sex and not holding back with someone as durable as she. Now, curled on her side with an arm and leg draped over the blonde, her entire body vibrates with the purr rumbling up from her chest. Her lips move against Caroline’s throat, tongue lazily lapping at the flow of vitae dripping from an open cut beneath her jaw.
Caroline: The Ventrue isn’t even left panting at the end, like she might have been as a mortal. She just lays there, as still as the corpse she is. There’s actually something peaceful in not having to breathe.
“That was…. fun,” she finally murmurs contentedly.
I might have lied when I said it wasn’t going to be a problem.
Celia: Celia nestles closer to her partner, worming her way beneath the blonde’s arm to settle against her more fully. For all that their Beasts don’t play well together, Celia is more hands on than most. Her lips haven’t stopped their movement against the slender, pale throat of Caroline, even now.
“Fun,” she agrees, nipping at her ear. She trails a hand down her body. “I suppose we missed the dancing.”
GM: Is there something I or the others can do?
Caroline: It’s a little late for that. There’s a mixture of amusement and shame in the response. You should know, your friend is dead.
“Oh? Were you disappointed?” Caroline asks.
Celia: “Not at all. I’d miss a thousand dance recitals if it lead me here.”
Caroline: Caroline purrs in amusement. It’s easier to stay in the moment than to think of the future.
GM: There’s a flash of horror.
Oh—Caroline! You could be in danger, she has a very large social media following!
Caroline: “Wicked, but I suppose we are wicked things.”
She seems to manage it well enough, all things being equal.
Celia: “Is it wicked to lavish you with admiration?”
GM: Mana… ah.
That was a mean prank.
There’s amusement, though, in the tone.
Caroline: It’s so rare that I get to see something fluster you.
Caroline laughs, lightly running her hand down Celia’s back. “Never. My Requiem would be easier if everyone did.”
Celia: “Tell me who withholds their affection and I shall cut them down to size,” Celia says, smirking.
GM: Ha. I suppose so. It’s no wonder Yvette looks up to you so much. That would have made her laugh.
Celia is Kindred, though? I suppose we all have our secrets.
She’s likely affiliated with Savoy, to have her salon in the Quarter. I wonder why she’d come all the way out here? This is the prince’s territory.
Caroline: We all do unreasonable things for family, Caroline answers. I wouldn’t hesitate to tear into the Quarter for any of you, and if she’s just one of the many associated with him, coming here would be far less risky.
“You’re going to fight my battles for me?” Caroline smirks. Toreador. Definitely Toreador.
GM: Of course. And I for you. But I’m not sure it makes sense, for just Lucy’s dance lesson. She might be here for something to do with you.
Caroline: As if she couldn’t taste it on her tongue.
Celia: “Do you need me to?” Celia glances between herself and the taller, more defined Kindred against whom she is curled. She touches a fingertip to the muscles in her arms, as if to prove her point. “I think you don’t, not on that front. But wars are fought with more than swords, aren’t they?”
Caroline: Caroline had been fast. Very fast.
“Are you going to go singing my praises?” she muses.
Celia: “I’m more physically artistic than musically inclined.” She splays her fingers out across Caroline’s stomach, as if to remind her. “Would you like me to choreograph a ballet for you?”
Caroline: “That sounds like a great deal of work. We had our own dance here.” She looks around and almost giggles. “And we made a mess.”
The timing does beg certain questions, Caroline agrees. But there are easier places to hurt me than here.
“I need to clean up before Cécilia breaks herself away.”
GM: That’s true. But when your getting hurt could be on the line, I don’t want to make any assumptions.
Celia: Celia lifts her head to appraise the room. Clothing scraps are strewn across the floor and the comforter upon which they lie is smeared in blood. She drops her head and nuzzles up against Caroline after a moment.
Then the dismissal. She tries not to pout.
“Do you think they heard us?”
GM: I don’t want to hurt Celia. She is my friend. But you’re my sister. I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to leave until we know more about her.
Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers. There’s a look of musement. “But not for your lack of trying. Are you sure you’re not a singer?” She runs her tongue across the Toreador’s chest, still smeared with their mixed vitae.
Celia: “My preferred medium is people.” She shifts, flat on her back, stomach and throat exposed to the Kindred above her. Her eyes dance in amusement. “But I confess, sometimes I sing in the shower.”
Caroline: A smile spreads across Caroline’s blood-streaked face. “You confess? Am I your priest?”
She rolls over to straddle the smaller Toreador and leans over her, tracing her tongue up to the exposed throat once more.
Celia: “I thought I was worshiping you here.” Her back arches, head tilting back so she can lean into the touch.
Caroline: I don’t know that will be necessary.
“Oh, but I like the confession game,” Caroline moans, raking her teeth across Celia’s skin again.
Celia: Her breath leaves her shivering body in a hiss. “Will you make me pay penance if I confess my sins? A Hail Mary for each time I coveted something I could not have?”
Caroline: “I think we can come up with more appropriate uses of your tongue than a Hail Mary,” Caroline answers.
Celia: “Then I confess, Caroline, to wanting you. Here, like this. Atop, beside, beneath; it makes no difference to me.” Celia reaches for her, touch light against the Ventrue’s cheek. “I wanted you and I knew it was a bad idea, as you said. Does that make me a sinner?”
Caroline: If only it were that simple. But she knows it’s not. Knows they’re both still wearing masks.
“Yes,” Caroline answers between nibbles on her neck. “Is that why you came here?”
Celia: Celia squirms. Her hands fall back above her head, ready to be pinned by this creature above her. She makes a motion with her head that might be a shake, though she doesn’t move so much as to dislodge Caroline’s lips at her throat.
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” she says honestly. Her breath comes in short pants. Caroline can hear the flutter of her heartbeat. “I came for my family, and because your sister asked it of me. I could not think of a way to refuse that would not betray what I am. But for all those alarm bells ringing in my head, I could not stay away once I saw you.”
“I’d have left and been sorry for it, but you asked me to stay. How could I refuse?”
Celia: “Do you remember,” she asks, “when I came into Tulane with that weapon, and you were standing at the desk? And I thought, this is it, I’m going to be ruined. But you worked your charm in a way I could not. You had steel in your spine and voice, even then. I thought that I could hide behind tears and weakness and stupidity, and it worked for a time. But you? You cut through the weaker people as if they were naught but cobwebs. We speak of masks and, I confess, I donned yours. I borrowed your strength, your clarity, your poise and stature. One part Caroline, I think, each time I play that role.”
Caroline: She’s either well and truly enamored with Caroline or is a well-practiced liar. Maybe both.
Who is Caroline kidding? Celia is from an even more fucked up home than she is. Of course she’s a good liar. The best lies are the ones the other person wants to be true.
Does she even care if Celia is lying? Does it matter here? She’s enjoyed herself. Enjoyed the Toreador’s company. Even if reality calls.
She nips a last time at her throat, takes a long pull from her, then laps the wound closed.
“You can have that piece of me,” she says at last. “Take it. My gift to you, Celia.”
Celia: There’s nothing pretend in the noise that builds in the back of her throat as Caroline sinks her teeth in, the way she writhes beneath the blonde’s lips until they’re pulled away and her body collapses back onto the bed, limp. She gazes up at Caroline with wide eyes, biting her lower lip.
“Is this goodbye?” she finally asks.
Caroline: “Is it?” Caroline rises. Looks around. The only piece of her clothing that might be salvageable are her heels.
She turns her gaze back to Celia. “You’re welcome to join me in the shower. After that….” She bites her lower lip. “I may be going out tonight, but I’m not going anywhere, so that’s very much up to you.”
The blonde runs a hair through her bloodstained hair. “Do you want to see me again?”
Celia: “Yes.” The answer is immediate.
“To both,” she clarifies. Celia isn’t ashamed of liking who she likes. She’d enjoy a shower with this beauty, another reason to stay close to her, to nip and touch and play and bite. She needs a shower as well, covered in blood as she is, though that is not her most pressing concern at the moment.
“Can I? See you again?” She doesn’t put into words what they both must be thinking.
Caroline: “Not here,” Caroline answers. “This was reckless. By both of us.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “But I have a place of my own.”
Is there anything good that can come of this? Probably not.
But Celia is intriguing. It’s like looking into a carnival mirror, another warped version of herself. And there are still so many lies and secrets between them. It’s a challenge. And Caroline can’t turn down a challenge.
Celia: Celia’s face betrays her: uncertainty, though not regret. “I… I didn’t mean to cause problems for you, Caroline. I mean that. Here, or elsewhere. It was reckless, and I’m sorry for my part in that. I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t assured of their safety. My family, and yours. I would never hurt your sisters.”
She pushes up off the bed, still small beneath the blonde but not laid out before her. Her arms encircle Caroline’s waist, hands flat against her back.
“I would like to see you again. Your place, if… if that’s safe. Edge of the Quarter?”
Caroline: “The Giani Building,” Caroline answers, one hand stroking Celia’s hair. “Right across Canal Street.”
Celia: Her eyes close. She turns her face into the touch. Her lips brush against Caroline’s wrist.
“It’s a date.”
Caroline: “I’ll give you my number, before we go. And my assistant’s number. If you have a ghoul they can set it up.”
What the hell is she doing? Celia is the enemy in more than one ways. But she doesn’t feel like the enemy.
Celia: Another trip into Vidal’s territory. Another chance at being snatched by his goons.
Caroline is worth it.
Her smile lights up her face. “Then I suppose we should get into the shower before you sisters come knocking and we give them a fright.”
Caroline: Caroline leads her off by the hand.
Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016
Caroline: The water is almost scaldingly hot. Hot enough to make Caroline feel alive, to put heat under her skin for a little while. It’s also spacious enough for two. Especially two willing to get a little more intimate.
It runs pink coming off them.
Celia: Heat seeps into her muscles. It makes her pliant and indulgent, and though the space is larger than the norm, especially considering Celia’s petite frame, she uses it as an excuse to stay curled against the blonde, body slick with whatever luxury products they keep inside this mansion. Her hands work it into a lather, gliding and stroking and kneading the length of Caroline’s body.
It’s a shame, she thinks, that each of them left enough blood on their bodies to swirl down the drain. A shame too that Caroline’s face is not permanently altered beneath the cosmetics, that the powders and creams will be washed away with the rest of the evidence of their tryst. Maybe one night Celia will offer to make that look as eternal as the Kindred herself.
One night, but not tonight. Tonight she has spilled enough secrets, and her ability to sculpt flesh need not be something she offer on a silver platter to every monster who tops her. And what a surprise that was, to go head to head with a months-old fledgling and still end up on her back. Fast, strong; she wonders what other secrets Caroline is hiding.
Caroline: Caroline seems to enjoy Celia’s touch, enjoy the attention, and simply lets the Toreador work her over. It’s as close to surrender as Celia’s seen since they started. Her expression shifts from contented to troubled as the water runs off them, shifts from pink to clear.
It’s tugging. It’s always tugging, but more so with the heat of the moment gone. There’s too much time for her to think, to worry.
Celia: Celia has not gotten where she is in life, and in her Requiem, by being ignorant to the moods of others. Even if she could not read Caroline’s face she would be able to feel it in her body: the tension in her muscles beneath Celia’s fingers, the resistance that she meets. Nothing like knots or nodules, just energy in the muscles that makes them stiff. She doesn’t pull away, instead resting her chin on Caroline’s chest and peering up at her through the spray of water.
“You seem agitated.” Not quite a question, though the curiosity is there in her voice, the silent promise to listen.
Caroline: “Every night of my Requiem,” Caroline answers lightly.
“And you’re not?” she asks skeptically.
Celia: “Every night? No. Some nights more than others. Some nights I am so agitated that I cannot stand it, that I want to rip my claws into my brain and chest to find this Beast that seeks to control us all and see if I can tear it out.”
“Other nights I’m content to enjoy a fuck and a shower and let my troubles swirl down the drain… until such time that they are rudely awakened by the fact that I haven’t brought a spare change of clothes.” Celia gives the blonde a rueful smile.
Caroline: God, she’s either a fantastic liar or…
She isn’t sure what else. But she does know Celia’s a talented liar.
She laughs, a hand sweeping over Celia’s hip as though taking her measure. “House full of girls, I’m sure we can find something you’ll like.”
“Or I could make you leave in nothing…”
Celia: “There’s a cruel joke. My mother’s distress is what got us into this; imagine if she were to see me streaking across the lawn.”
Caroline: “Would you have just walked out, if she hadn’t come in? Left me blissfully unaware of you?” Caroline asks.
Celia: Yes. That’s the safer option, isn’t it? Don’t let anyone else know what she is. Keep everything safe.
“I meant what I said when I was going to leave, you know. That I wanted to, but it would cause problems.” She doesn’t need to mention whose territory they are in, or the fact that she lives in the French Quarter.
“It doesn’t… need to cause problems. I didn’t think you’d be here. Not that…” not that saying so sounds any better. “I just came to make my mom happy. And see Lucy dance. Her recitals are during the day, I never get a chance. Not that kids their age are graceful, but…”
GM: She’s probably missed most of the lesson by now.
Caroline: She’d like to believe that. But the timing… and other things… would it be easier or harder to believe though, if those other things weren’t true? Is she really that sure?
“So you would have just vanished out of my life and left me none the wiser?” Caroline answers, seemingly disappointed.
Celia: A frown mars her face. The water is no longer welcoming, beating down as it is upon her. She doesn’t know what the lick wants her to say.
“Caroline… this, with us,” she gestures between them, hand grazing the underside of her breast as she makes the motion, “it’s… God, no, who could walk away from you? It’s not possible.”
Caroline: “Are you sure?” The shower is spacious, but Caroline looms close enough that their dead flesh touches. Threatening or intimate? There’s no heat in her voice.
“It seems like you want to. Want this to be a one-off instead of recurring event.”
She leans in, nuzzles her lips against Celia’s throat, and whispers, “I could live with that, but don’t lead me on.”
Celia: Teeth at her throat. Teeth. At her throat. Hiding just behind the tiny bit of flesh that contains them. Predators don’t nuzzle their prey, and Celia isn’t prey. Out of her element in this domain, certainly, but not some rabbit in the forest.
Rather than pull away she only tilts her head, exposing more of her throat to fangs that lurk inside Caroline’s mouth. Celia’s hand travels the length of her body, coming to a rest at her hips. She gives a squeeze.
“I could have left once we’d finished in the bedroom,” Celia reminds her, “and I told you that I’d like to see you again.”
Caroline: “So did I,” Caroline whispers.
“But words are easy, and there are a dozen good reasons you could disappear. So let me show you.”
The Ventrue’s fangs dip into that gracefully extended neck, and her kiss finds Celia as she takes long, fevered pulls from the Toreador. Directly from the Toreador.
Celia: It’s not the same as in the bedroom. There’s no mad scrabble for power, no biting, hissing, or scratching. Celia’s lips split the moment the two pin pricks of fang cut into her skin and she makes a noise that is entirely human; the breath leaves her lungs in an arduous sigh. Her eyes close, head tilting forward to rest against Caroline’s body as she drinks. She moves her hands up her body in gentle strokes.
This. This more than anything is what she’s searching for in her Requiem. Intimacy. It had been easy to resist the call of her blood in the bedroom, but she knows the reason for the deliberate biting and drinking. Show me, Caroline had said.
Her body responds to the challenge, fangs extending in her mouth until all she need do is sink in. A crime to do so, a crime not to. The echoes of exclusive resonate through her mind. So, too, does the image of her head rolling across the floor if she’s caught here.
She doesn’t see another way out. She sinks her teeth in and drinks directly from the source.
Caroline: Caroline writhes against Celia. This is so much better than the scrambling, fighting, clawing blood-drawing fucking that is Kindred sex. No asserting power, just locked in each other’s kiss. Not that this can happen without that first. Without their Beasts knowing the terms between each other.
She remembers the last time. Remembers every time. The raw shiver of need it brought on. The kiss is better than mortal sex ever was, it sets her entire body on fire, could take away her breath, if she still had it. Here in the shower, with the hot water, with both of their bodies warm to the touch, she can almost pretend they’re alive.
It’s all she can do to stay latched onto Celia in turn. To create this perfect system. Give and take in equal measure, not a drop wasted.
Her hands roam the other Kindred even as she grinds herself against her, wants to be inside her, to have her inside of herself, to be as close as she possibly can.
She doesn’t know how long it goes on. Doesn’t care. In the kiss she doesn’t have any worries. When it finally breaks it’s like being born, being thrust out into a harsh world, to sever such intimacy.
She doesn’t want it to end, but it has to. She leaves Celia with something, though. A gift for this moment.
She looks down into the Toreador’s eyes. “Thank you.”
Celia: She’d been unsure. Hesitant. But locked in Caroline’s embrace, both of them experiencing the ebb and flow of shared blood, it dissipates, dissolving into nothing. She rides the wave of red, the bliss that comes with the viscous platelets across her palate. Rich, thick; unexpected, but so much better than she could have imagined.
Maybe it’s the collar snapping into place around her neck, or… there, the burning, as it travels through her body. Not like last time. Last time she was human and it took her by surprise. This time it’s a gentle, rolling warmth from Caroline to Celia. She could lose herself here forever and still be content. She’s still enraptured by the blonde even as the kiss fades away into nothing.
She doesn’t want to go. She presses closer, lips moving across her flesh, reveling in this new… gift. Wings beat inside her chest. She wants to dance. To run. To make it last forever.
They have forever, and already a promise to see each other again. Celia presses a final kiss against Caroline. No teeth, just lips, like the humans they once were.
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