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Old 10-01-2002, 03:16 PM   #1   [permalink]
KtHM
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Just... Writing

Okay. It isn't fan fiction. And the first... four pages have been slightly revised thanks to TM the Crack Editor.

Um... I'm really looking for criticism. Things that I can do to make this better. It's a first draft. And yes I'll work on my other stories later. Really.

Mmmyep. This here is the Celeste story I’ve been working on for a couple days because it OWNS ME. Anyway, you may notice that this story is very similar to the story in Jhonen Vasquez’s I Feel Sick and that’s deliberate. However, instead of an external force trying to syphon Devi’s imagination for the shadowy purpose of giving itself a body we have an internal force trying to absorb Celeste’s pain for… well… you’ll find out. I consider Jaoque to be a little bit of Schmee, acting as a trauma sponge, a little bit of Mr. ----, and sort of an antithesis to Reverend Meat. I know, I know, a plethora of Jhonen ideas, but they were all ones I appreciate and I hope I’ve put a rather original spin on them.

This piece is, as of yet, unfinished. I’m trying to keep it as a short story but the damn this is twenty four pages already so I’m not making any promises. Comments and criticism would be greatly appreciated.

Notes:

Though Celeste, Esperanza, and Rosa all grew up in a latino neighborhood I tried to cool down their accents so that they were practically non-existent, figuring that they spent a lot of time in places that weren’t quite as heavily latino. Rico’s accent, however, is impossibly thick, making it very hard to type, and sprinkled with Spanish. Rico is Kofi’s character and I had to study the speech patterns he used in our RPGs to write Rico’s dialogue. It wasn’t easy.

The club that Celeste goes to with Rosa is loosely based off of Klub Z, except it has a bar where Klub Z doesn’t. I’m tempted to go back and add in a better description. The Roxy is an actual twenty-four hour café located on Stark street and the Shadow of the Elm can be found on Park street. Though this story apparently takes place in Rhydin I’m drawing a lot of my scenery from Portland, where I now live, especially from the Park blocks. I’ve always been rather charmed by the stone chessboards set throughout the park, and the two block space in front of the PSU library and Cramer Hall. This might be because they’re pretty much right outside my window.

Thanks:

Kofi, for asking me to make Celeste in the first place and for creating Rico who is, by far, one of my favorite characters in history.

Shaina, for reading the initial copy of this and helping me focus what I wanted from Jaoque.

Sylvian, for coming up with the name Jaoque.

Samari, just for being and for always helping.



Celeste


It was easy to notice that Celeste had changed. She moved about the apartment like a ghost. Her cheeks and eyes were hollow and she barely ate. The worst part was she wasn’t angry any longer. Anger had, prior to the break up with the man she had figured had been in love with her, fueled Celeste. It had been what had kept her from crying or being afraid. It was very hard to be afraid when you were pissed.

And then the break up had come. The furious, hateful break up that had ripped through her like a hurricane. When the dust settled, when the door slammed, when Celeste had found herself standing alone in the front room of her apartment staring after Rico she hadn’t cried; it had seemed so natural, such a thing to do. Celeste was used to following raging arguments with a bout of helpless tears. However, this time, she had merely turned to put on a pot of coffee.

At first she hadn’t understood why she wasn’t crying. Then, as time wore on, curiosity seemed to close itself off; it was followed by hunger. She hadn’t felt anything and she hadn’t been able to explain it, hadn’t cared enough to question it.

'The truth was, when pain came it was easy to deal with, her comfort lie in her anger, her consolation in tears. For Celeste, a pain so great had come that the only way to protect herself from it had been to kill her heart. Everything she did was mechanical. She woke every morning. She showered every morning. She dressed every morning. She walked to work, a local video rental, every morning. But things had changed.

If Doc, the officer who she shared her apartment with, was home in the mornings he forced her to eat. 'There was no more singing in the shower and her clothes were plain, more often than not they were the same rumpled pile that she entered the bathroom with. The scuffed second-hand running shoes, rarely tied, sturdy jeans that seemed to showcase just how thin her legs had become and covered in damp spots from the tile floor she hardly noticed, plain white or black tee shirts or turtlenecks that hung off her frail form, posture in direct correlation with her mood. Her hair which she had once styled meticulously was pulled back away from her face in a low ponytail, twisted through rubber bands carelessly. There was no make up, any jewelry save the cross around her neck. After a month, the cross, the holy symbol of her life, was buried with the beliefs it had held.

Celeste had turned her back on the church; the thing she thought for the longest time had made her whole. There hadn’t been any pain or guilt or remorse, rather a disinterest had settled over her and she had just stopped going, stopped praying, stopped wanting and stopped dreaming.

Her friends were beginning to notice. Rosa would stop in at the video rental and would stop by the counter to talk to Celeste regularly.

“You should come out dancing with me tonight,” Rosa would say, laughing and trying to mask her worry. “Everyone is going…” Celeste would invariably shrug, eyes downcast, fixed on the hard gloss lacquer of the counter.

“I don’t feel like it,” she would say quietly.

She didn’t feel.

Then it had started. The ripples of fury disturbing the lake of her distraught calm, the crests of nausea that lapped at her entirety. She would find herself clenching her fists in the dark as she lay in bed, filled with something that she couldn’t explain. She would wake the next morning, sheets twisted around her body like steel cables or sometimes she would wake to find the sheets bunched at the bottom of the bed, pushed aside by the furious cycling of her legs. She would wake running.

One day she had walked into the living room and had seen the blank canvas that she had prepared a month before but had never painted on. After the break up, her paintings had lost feeling. She had started still lifes and finished them but there had been no soul. She may as well have taken a photograph. After a while she had just stopped painting altogether.

Celeste wiped the sweat from her upper lip, walked slowly to the canvas, and began mixing paints. The horrible, black, bubbling rage had boiled until it touched the back of her throat, enticing her growl, and then she had begun.

Furious stripes of color, bursts of white and black muted with greens and blues. She had painted for hours until, finally, the anger had subsided. Then she had let out a shaking breath and had walked to the kitchen, suddenly ravenous, and had eaten a bowl of Cheerios. Her emotions were gone again; she was like a walking shadow of what she had once been. The worst part was it didn’t bother her.

The routine had stayed for six weeks that time. She had unhooked the phone to avoid Rosa’s calls, as they always seemed to give her a hideous migraine. It was getting hard to remember Rico’s face.

The whole time the horrible feeling in her stomach had been growing. Then, one Tuesday after work she had walked directly to the canvas, picked up her brushes and had continued working on the painting, furiously screaming obscenities at it, her brush slicing the canvas in bleeding gashes of red and orange.

After, her hunger was back again. Hooking up the phone, she called out for a medium pizza, loaded with everything, and had eaten it all in an hour. Then she had calmly unhooked the phone again. Then she had walked from the room.

Doc would come home, tell her that four of her friends had called his cell looking for her, and would look at the phone hooked with Celeste’s line, the plug resting a foot away from the jack. She was calm to the outward eye. To the cautious one, she was dead.

The next time the anger had come, it had only been two weeks. A form was beginning to take shape in the hate-filled slices of color. She had eaten three big sandwiches afterward.

After that, the need to paint came every day, always on the same picture. She had calmed while doing it, adding in details, working slowly. She was savoring.

Doc came home one night to find her adding in details with the smallest brush she owned, leaning in close to the picture.

“Still working on that, huh?” he asked from his place at the doorway as he shrugged out of his coat. He was built like a linebacker, had been one in his youth, and had salt and pepper hair cut close to his head. There was a five-o-clock shadow on his face, there always was it seemed, and his clothing was rumpled. Ropy muscles twisted up his arms that were bare to his elbows, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up. He worked in homicide these days, which, while like the seamy side of vice, still kept him at the office nearly all hours of the day.

She continued painting. Serene strokes of the brush from a hand lost in the Zen of the zombie.

“Celeste?” He called her name, watching her back.

She continued painting. The flow of paint on the canvas, there and only there could she find what was left of her shattered heart.

“Celeste?” This time his voice was slightly more urgent.

“Hello Doc,” Celeste murmured, peering at the row of tiny lines and wondering if it was an eyebrow.

“Hello Celeste,” he replied. Doc wasn’t his given name; he was Alexander Jonathan Parkson but when he had been working with juvenile offenders there had been a couch in his office that the youths would stretch out upon. That and his tendency to listen and treat rather than punish had given him the image of a psychiatrist. “Doc” as a nickname had sprung from that. “Rosa called for you twice on my cell phone, Esperanza called too.”

Esperanza was Celeste’s younger sister. It gave her reason to pause.

“What did Esperanza want?” Celeste asked and Doc shrugged.

“Seems Armondo’s birthday is coming up. She wanted to know if you’d be there.” He fixed the back of her head with a stare from beneath bushy brows. She had been so quiet for a moment he had wondered if she was dead. For a moment he had wondered if he had found her ghost painting in the living room. “Will you?”

Family duty warred with apathy. She shrugged noncommittally. “If I’m not working I’ll drop by,” she promised.

“Celeste, I’m worried about you.” He grabbed a soda from the refrigerator and sat down on the couch to watch her work. “Ever since you and Rico… you…”

“Broke up. Those are the two words you’re scratching around for,” she offered. “We broke up.”

“Okay,” he murmured. “Ever since you and Rico broke up you’ve been sort of distant. You haven’t yelled at me for coming home late for months.”

“It’s hard to explain,” she told him quietly, eyes never leaving the canvas. “I… I don’t feel things anymore, Doc.”

“Like… loss of feeling in your hands or something?” he asked.

“Like loss of feeling in my heart,” she replied, a cold finality, a death in the words, said as faintly and distantly as though they were sounds from a tape recorder.

The silence in the room stretched out for some time, Doc perched upon the faded green couch and Celeste standing a few feet away in front of the easel, feet crunching on the tarp spread out beneath her. It was her painting corner, and Doc was careful never to step within it. It was Celeste’s space.

“Maybe you should…” he shrugged. “Maybe you should try seeing other people. I’m sure Rosa’s got three or four boys lined up and waiting for you.”

“Lately the thought of spending time with another person… with people… with anything but this painting has been making me feel sort of sick,” she told him calmly.

“You’ve been working on it for some time,” Doc mused.

“There’s something… slipping. God, I can feel it slipping, the screws are coming undone in me… my head… the screws are…” she sank to her knees, tucking herself into a ball and folding her arms over her head. Doc stood and stopped at the edge of the canvas.

“Celeste,” he said quietly. “Maybe you should try going back to church.”

“I can’t. I don’t believe in anything anymore,” she rocked back and forth, the terrible nausea getting worse. “I think I’m going to throw up,” she said quietly, and crawled to the edge of the tarp where Doc hauled her to her feet and put her arm around his neck. His arm steadying her at her waist he helped her to the bathroom and rubbed her back reassuringly as she emptied bile from her stomach into the toilet. The harsh light seemed to only highlight the dark circles under her eyes. When she was finished he helped her to the sink and had her wash her mouth out before he got a cloth, ran it under the cold water and then dabbed at her sweat drenched brow.

“Celeste,” he helped her to the living room and settled her on the couch before walking to the small open kitchen, “when did you last eat?”

“Yesterday after I finished painting,” she said weakly.

He brought her a piece of toast and a glass of water. “Eat this and then get your coat. We’re going out to get something to eat.”

“No, I have to keep working,” she whispered. “I can keep the screws from coming undone if I keep working.”

“How very Sarah Winchester of you,” he snapped. “You haven’t left the house for anything but work in weeks, you damn hermit. I know a good twenty four hour café and you’re getting something to eat in you.”

Thirty minutes later they stepped into the Roxy. It was a twenty-four hour café filled with drag queens. A small black and white sign next to the cash register read “Hippies use side door” and a there were celebrity photos, signed, lining the walls. The far side of the room had a juke box that a short blond girl in neon orange pants and a powder blue shirt was studying the selections of. At the moment it was playing They Might Be Giants. Above the jukebox a life-size replica of Christ on the cross dominated the wall. His halo, a loop of neon, glowed in the dim lighting.

A pretty red head led them to a table and Doc ordered coffee right off the bat.

“So, why don’t we start with you telling me why the painting is keeping the screws in,” he said conversationally once the waitress had left.

“Y’know, one of my friends once told me that the Catholic faith is all about temptation. She told me this joke… this priest is in a confessional but he really has to use the bathroom,” Celeste’s face was emotionless as she relayed the joke, “so he rushes out as soon as there isn’t someone in there and finds the janitor. He asks the janitor to stand in for him in the confessional while he uses the bathroom, says it isn’t hard as there’s a big chart on the wall with all the signs and their appropriate punishments. So the janitor reluctantly gets into the booth and after a minute or so this guy comes in.

‘Bless me father for I have sinned,’ he says and the janitor, feeling rather uncomfortable, replies ‘How did you sin my son?’ So the guy tells him ‘I had sex with a minor.’ Anyway, the janitor looks over the chart but there isn’t any ‘sex with a minor’ sin listed. So he opens the door and spots this altar boy and he waves to him. ‘Psst, come here, altar boy!’ he whispers and the altar boy comes over and the janitor asks ‘what does the Father usually give for sex with a minor?’ And the altar boy says ‘I usually get a dollar and a candy bar.’”

Doc, bless him, all but howled with laughter as the waitress brought their coffee, cream in a baby bottle. She set down menus in front of them and when she left, Doc was still laughing.

“After a while,” Celeste continued, “I realized she was right. The Catholic faith isn’t about God or Jesus or anybody. It’s about temptation, waving it in front of people and then asking them to resist. I know I didn’t resist very well where Rico was concerned.”

“How does this relate back to the painting?” Doc finally managed.

“I’m getting to it,” Celeste assured him as she scanned her menu. “When Rico and I broke up it hurt. It hurt a lot. Normally I would have gone to the church for comfort but I realized that I had failed them one too many times. They had failed me too. The pain was so much that finally I think I just turned off my feelings. Then… one day… I just got so angry… I finally just started painting. I put everything into it, all my anger, everything. When I finished I was hungry again. The urges to paint just started coming closer and closer together. Now the only time I feel anything is when I’m painting. It’s alive.” The admission slipped out before she could stop it and she silently cursed herself.

The waitress returned and took their orders. Doc asked for a hamburger with bacon and onion rings on the side, Celeste got herself a turkey sandwich with fries. When they were alone again the older man turned his eyes to her.

“It’s alive?” he prompted.

“Yeah,” she said, dumping cream into her coffee. “It’s alive. I can feel it- sometimes I think I can even hear it talking. It gets sort of… I can’t describe it. It’s like a compulsion.” She looked up from her coffee, hands wrapped around the mug and eyes in a sea of shadows. “I don’t have anything left but my artwork, Doc, and when I finish working on this painting I don’t know if I’ll ever feel again.”

They were silent, staring at one another. The waitress came, placed their orders on the table and a receipt and then sashayed off to the kitchen. Doc tapped his index finger on the table and then nodded.

“You don’t have fun anymore, Celeste,” he told her. “You either paint or stare at the wall. And I’m worried. I think I have a right to be worried, right?”

“I suppose you do,” Celeste answered. “Being my surrogate dad for the time being.”

“Maybe you should try talking to Rico,” he said, turning his attention to his burger. “Maybe until you work out what happened between you two you won’t be able to get those feelings back. I know I wasn’t always too fond of him before but you two were good together when you weren’t fighting. Hell, even when you were fighting.”

“I don’t think I could just show up at his door and start demanding he give my feelings back,” Celeste said dryly.

“Why not?” Doc asked. “You seemed content to go pounding on his door screaming before.”

“I don’t do much screaming unless I’m painting these days,” she reminded him.

“Hence my concern,” Doc interjected. He glanced up at her and smirked, before ducking his head to concentrate on the burger. “You can smoke in here, y’know.”

“I just might do that,” she told him.
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Old 10-01-2002, 03:17 PM   #2   [permalink]
KtHM
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It was late when the whispering started. Celeste lay in her bed, on her back, staring at the ceiling. The room was dark, the blue-gray dark of midnight and in the other room she could hear the whispers coming through the door.

You aren’t finished yet. You aren’t finished yet. Come back here and finish this. You aren’t finished yet. I’m not finished yet.

She rolled onto her side and pulled the burgundy blanket over her shoulder, settling against the plump pillow. Fixating her stare on the carpet she tried to ignore it.

I’m not finished yet and you have to finish me. You can’t leave what you started. Come and finish. You can’t resist it; you can’t escape it. All you know is this now. Come and finish.

The carpet was green, shag worn through in some places. The bedside table she kept covered with books was irrevocably scarred by idle teenage hands with knives. The reason she kept it covered was clear. The top had “Rico + Celeste” in a large heart carved into it. She had tried painting over it and it hand only sunk into the depression of the knife wounds, make them stand out all the more clearly for her.

You aren’t finished yet and I’m not finished yet. So get out here, pick up the damn brush and finish me. Finish what you started. Feed your soul.

“No, no, no,” she whispered emphatically, hands clenching the bedspread almost violently.

Finish it. Give me my soul. Give me my mind. Give me my body.

Celeste shoved herself out of bed and stormed into the living room, bare feet whispering over carpet and tarp. She stopped in front of the painting and stared at it.

She wasn’t very threatening, standing there in a tank top and her underwear, hair mussed from lying in bed. Her eyes were hard, hateful, and her jaw was clenched.

“What do you want with me?” she asked the painting.

I want you to be free.

Helplessly, she lifted the paintbrush and set to work.



She was still working when Doc came out of his room the next morning. He was fuzzy eyed from sleep and didn’t notice her at first when he turned on the Mr. Coffee. Then a glance over his shoulder alerted him to her presence, half nude and still working.

“Celeste?” he asked, surprised. She looked back at him; eyes hollow, and offered him a weak smile.

“Good morning, Doc,” she said quietly. “Do you need anything?”

“Did you go to bed last night?” he asked and she shrugged.

“For a little while. Then I realized I needed to paint.” She turned back to the canvas and continued working. Doc peered at the painting, thinking it looked something like a wing stretching out. There were more canvases painted white, waiting to be started on.

“It almost looks finished,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” Celeste said. “This part does. The canvas wasn’t big enough so I’m splitting it…the picture into pieces. It has to be a full body portrait.”

“Who is it?” Doc asked carefully.

“I don’t know,” Celeste answered. “You better go or you’ll be late for work.” He left without comment and Celeste returned her attention to finishing the painting.

Five hours later, at one, there was a knock at her door. She stepped away from the painting and walked across the living room, stretching onto the tips of her toes to peer through the cycloptic eye of the door. Rosa stood there, hands on her hips, watching the eyehole expectantly.

“I know you’re in there, Howard Hughes. Open the door!” she demanded with a giggle. Celeste sighed and opened the door a crack before Rosa shoved her way in. “Half naked at one in the afternoon. Damn you know how to live, Celeste.” Celeste made her way to her bedroom, scooped up sweat pants and tugged them on before turning her attention to her friend.

“So…” she began and then broke off in a shrug. “Coffee?”

“We can head on down to a coffee shop, good idea!” Rosa said brightly.

“Um… I’m not dressed,” Celeste argued lamely before dropping down onto the couch.

“Your phones unhooked,” Rosa said almost accusingly.

“Yeah, I needed to work without any distractions,” Celeste explained. Rosa had been her best friend since elementary school. They had both always been the two youngest and shortest girls in the class, both having late July birthdays. Rosa had light brown hair she habitually wore in a braid down to her waist and impeccable fashion sense. She perched herself on the armchair across from Celeste and smiled.

“You must come dancing tonight,” Rosa demanded in a cheery voice.

“I reeeeaaaally don’t think so, Ro,” Celeste replied, leaning back into the couch cushions and turning her gaze up to the ceiling by tilting her head back.

“You must,” Rosa continued. “Don’t make me use Jedi mind tricks on you.”

“No,” Celeste said, lifting her head to glare at her friend.

“You will come to this new club with me tonight,” Rosa said, waving her hand in a small circle in mimicry of Obi Wan.

“No,” Celeste repeated.

“I said you will come dancing tonight.” Rosa repeated the hand gesture.

“No,” Celeste snapped.

“Yes you will,” Rosa said with a more irritable hand-circle-gesture.

“Fine,” Celeste sighed, “but afterwards I will have no choice but to gouge out your eyes and feast upon your liver.”

“Okay!” Rosa grinned. “I’ll be back to pick you up at eleven thirty and you better be dressed nice… hey, don’t you work today?” Celeste turned her head and stared at the clock.

“I need to get going, you’re right,” she murmured, and came to her feet, wandering into her bedroom and getting dressed. Rosa followed her and dug into the bottom of her dresser, coming up with a pair of black faux leather pants and a short sleeved black halter-top.

“You wear these tonight,” she commanded, tossing them on the bed, “with that electric blue fishnet thing. And those gloves and the platform sneakers… the blue ones I like so much. You wear them or you die.”

“Gotcha,” Celeste sighed, tucking her shirt into her jeans. There was no arguing with Rosa. She ruled the world, wrapping whomever she wanted to around a perfectly manicured finger.

“Good! I’ll see you at eleven thirty and for God’s sake put on a little make up and do your hair nice,” Rosa called as she left.



Celeste stood behind the counter at the video rental, looking out at the sea of shelves. The shelves were laden with poorly done movies, which encompassed a lot of what Celeste had seen in her life. The foreign film section, her favorite section, was devoid of customers. Celeste thought that the world would be a better place if people watched more foreign films.

I’m not finished. Why did you leave?

“I can’t finish you, idiot,” Celeste whispered between gritted teeth, “if I don’t have the money to buy paint.”

Before she could question the fact that she had started talking to herself, a slightly obese man, balding, walked up to the counter and stared at her.

“Can I help you?” Celeste asked.

“I’m looking for a movie,” he said.

“Okay…” Celeste pasted on a smile and waited for him to elaborate.

“It had a lot of explosions… and that one guy… y’know, the one?” He smiled harmlessly as Celeste resisted the urge to drop her head into her hands.

“Do you know anything else about it?” she asked.

“There was a girl in it too,” he said helpfully.

“I see…” Celeste murmured, wondering if murder was legal if you were ridding the world of an idiot.

She was feeling things again.

But none of them were happy.



Celeste stepped outside the church and turned back to impulsively wave to Father Celaya. “Bye Father! I’ll see you tomorrow!” The older man, tall with a studious look in his robes, waved back with a caring smile. Celeste, fifteen, rubbed her hands vigorously against the cold.

She whistled tunelessly, stopped at a street corner and waiting for the crosswalk to change. Her straight auburn hair was tamed with a pair of barrettes each with a small rose on it above her left ear and fell just short of her shoulders. Eyes the color of dark coffee scanned the street. There didn’t seem to be any cars coming…

…She stepped out into the street cautiously and was halfway across, crosswalk still holding up an imposing orange hand, when the oncoming car filled her vision and the blaring horn deafened her. She jumped out of the way with a yelp, covering her ears at the squeal of brakes and then watched as the lanky young man unfolded himself from the car after parking it at the curb.

“Madre de Dios woman, are ‘joo loco or sum’tin?” His accent was heavy, much deeper than her father’s or brother’s. A black vest hung off his slender shoulders, revealing bare, muscled abdomen. Blue hair fell in spikes across his brow and his eyes, flecks of gold on chocolate narrowed as he scowled. He would have looked gaunt if it hadn’t been for the ridges of muscle. “Jesus Christ I coulda killed ‘joo!”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain on a holy day,” Celeste snapped automatically and then winced, cursing herself inwardly. “I mean, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I didn’t see you coming.”

“’Dats for damn sure,” he muttered and then looked her up and down once, obviously taking in the prim, knee length black skirt, white blouse, and the rosary. “Catholic,” he noted quietly and Celeste’s eyes shot up.

“Is there a problem with that?” she demanded and he shrugged.

“Don’t see mucha problem with it,
chica.” He had a smile like a wicked angel. “An’ I’m sorry for giving ‘joo such a scare.”

“Maybe if you hadn’t been doing ninety in a damn school zone-,” she started and the man held up a finger with a sly smile, placing the pad of it against her lips to quiet her, pleased that she flushed.

“I was doin’ eighty, not ninety
chica an’ I don’ see no school kids around on a Sunday, yeah?” He moved his finger away. “What’s your name?”

“Celeste,” she replied shortly.

“’Joo live ‘round here?” he asked and Celeste took a cautious step backwards.

“Yeah, up at Sunset Apartments.” He seemed familiar and Celeste suddenly placed it. “I think I saw you visiting one of my neighbors once before he moved out. Lucio, yeah, that was his name.”

He paused as though placing it and then gave a huge grin, spreading his arms harmlessly. “Garcia, then. Celeste Garcia, I ain’ never heard ‘o ‘joo.”

“My last name isn’t Garcia. That’s my stepfather’s last name,” she snapped, annoyed. “It’s de Estrella. Celeste de Estrella.”

“An’ I’m Rico Rociada. It’s a pleasure to meet ‘joo,
chica, an’ even more of a pleasure to say I didn’t turn ‘joo into roadkill.” He had a musical voice. Celeste was trying to concentrate on it, to follow the words. His accent was as heavy as her grandfather’s was.

“It’s… it’s all right. I should have been looking where I was going. I’m very sorry.” She ducked her head in apology.

“Well now, seein’ as how I know where ‘joo live an’ all I could give ‘joo a ride home,” he offered and she shook her head.

“I don’t really know you,” she said. “My mother would be terribly annoyed.” It was a lie, but she’d deal with it. Her mother rarely noticed anything through her alcoholic haze.

It was then that the clouds split open overhead, releasing a torrent of rain that soaked through her shirt almost instantly. Rico clucked disapprovingly. “’Joo even bring a jacket,
chica? Sunset Apartments is a mile from here an’ I ain’ lettin’ ‘joo walking home in de rain. C’mon, I’ll give ‘joo a ride.”

She wanted to refuse, but he had looked so sincere, so harmless that she had decided that it couldn’t hurt. That and it was freezing. She walked back with him to his car and smiled when he held the door open for her.

“So,” he began, sliding into the driver’s seat and starting the car. There was a scream of rubber on wet pavement and the nose of the car swung around before Rico wrenched the wheel and slammed his foot onto the gas. Celeste sucked in her breath, managing a small, squeaking noise as her spine had a close encounter with the fake leather of the back of her seat. She carefully pried her fingers off her thigh and clutched the 'aw ----' bar, looking over to scream at her insane driver. “I recognize de name now. ‘Joo got an older brother?” His tone was casual, conversational even.

“Manna,” she told him, shakily, so thrown off that she forgot to scold. “He’s twenty two.” She thought the world of him too, even if he did run with the wrong crowd. He still came to church and it touched Celeste to see him, his nose crooked from a break from fighting years ago and a scar on his chin, kneeling to take communion.

“Yeah, I met him once. ‘Joo don’t remind me a lot of him,
chica,” he said, turning his head to study her critically.

“Eyes on the road,” Celeste begged. “You probably aren’t looking close enough. We had the same nose before he got his broken. We both take after our father.”

“---- I know that feelin’,” he chuckled mirthlessly and Celeste was given to wonder about his father. “So, how old are ‘joo?” he asked.

“Fifteen,” she said, swallowing once. “I’ll be sixteen in a few weeks. How old are you?”

“Nearly seventeen,” he told her and that caused her to arch a brow at the back seat where an empty bottle of some nameless liquor lay. Rico seemed to notice where her gaze had gone in the rearview mirror and smiled easily. “It’s recyclin’ day,” he told her playfully.

“I’m just sure it is,” she said quietly.

They pulled into the parking lot of the apartments and she stepped out, surprised when he did as well and walked with her to her door.

“How’s about ‘joo let me take ‘joo out to a movie or sum’tin next Friday?” he asked as she pulled out her keys with a roll of her eyes.

“Please don’t be offended Mr. Rociada,” she said calmly, “but you really aren’t my type.”

“Damn. Dat shoulder get any colder an’ I’m gon’ freeze t’death.” He sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets, giving her a grin filled with boyish charm. “I’m gon’ haf’ta come back an’ sweep ‘joo off your feet,
si?”

“I’ll be certain to bolt the door,” she murmured dryly, stepping inside. “Thank you for the ride.” Then she closed the door.

However, she noticed him down in the parking lot from her window as he waved to her. “I’ll be back,
fea!” he called up to her with a playful grin. She watched him drive off and then pulled out her Spanish to English dictionary, flipping through it until she found ‘fea’.

Celeste found herself strangely charmed that he had called her ugly.



“So tell me again why I agreed to come with you to this place,” Celeste asked Rosa over the scream of the music. Rosa glanced over at her through strobe and twirling colors and pointed to her ear.

“Wha~at?!” she shouted and Celeste leaned closer.

“Tell me again why I agreed to come with you to this place!” she tried to shout over the music and Rosa shook her head.

“I can’t hear you!” she replied. “Isn’t this place great?!”

“It’s too noisy here!” Celeste shouted and Rosa nodded slightly.

“They’ve got beer, yeah!” she replied and then returned her attention to dancing. Giving up, Celeste sauntered off to snap up one of the seats on the couches, helping herself to a corner next to a stand with an ashtray and lighting a cigarette. The club was relatively small, with a bar and a dance floor. The downstairs played Gothic industrial and the upstairs, where Celeste was currently perched in one of the dark corners trying to escape the pounding noise, played popular music.

“Come here often?” a young man asked as he slid onto the cushion next to her.

“No,” Celeste answered shortly and returned her attention to the dance floor where Rosa and her boyfriend Miguel were currently.

“First time, eh?” He leaned in closer and Celeste rolled her eyes. He smelled drunk. “I’m Jason.”

“That’s nice,” Celeste replied and tried to scoot further away from him.

“Do you have a name?” he asked on a laugh and she shook her head.

“The government won’t let me tell it to anyone. I’m an alien,” she said shortly and sighed at his laugh. He seemed to be trying to lay a hand on her knee and she kept swatting it away.

“So, do you want to dance?” he asked hopefully and she shook her head.

“No thank you,” she replied politely and then wanted to scream as he persisted with his attempts at groping her leg. “I’m going to have to insist you stop touching me before I’m forced to hurt you,” she said calmly.

“What?” he asked. “I couldn’t hear you.” His hand slid up her thigh.

The hell with this, Celeste thought sourly before ramming her fist into his nose, watching his head snap back as blood gushed from his face. He swore loudly, landing on the floor with a thud, and Celeste stood and headed for the door. Rosa was rushing to her with a look of shock.

“What happened?” she asked and Celeste shrugged.

“I’m going home,” she said. “I’ll walk, you stay here and have fun with Miguel. I’ll see you around.”

“Okay,” Rosa said quietly and gave her a tight hug that Celeste couldn’t return. “I’ll call and make sure you’re okay tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” Celeste replied and stalked out the door of the club leaving the crowd of trendy people to stare in her wake.

Last edited by KtHM; 16-01-2002 at 01:32 AM.
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Old 10-01-2002, 03:18 PM   #3   [permalink]
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I’m glad to see you’re home. You’re nearly finished with the wing.

“The wing?” Celeste asked, eyeing the painting with distrust as she walked through the door. She hung her jacket in the closet by the front door and then approached the painting carefully. “It’s a wing?”

It sure looks like one, doesn’t it?

“I suppose so.” Doc wasn’t home—he was probably sleeping at the office again after working so late, as he did three or four times a week, more if he had a particularly difficult case. The room smelled like two-day-old coffee and gardenia, and it was cold from the open window. “When I finish with the wing… will I lose feeling again?”

I shouldn’t think so. I’m not nearly done yet.

“When I finish you will I lose feeling again?” she asked quietly.

Not unless you want to I suppose. I’m just trying to help you, Celeste. I just want to protect you.

She let out a sigh of relief. “Let me change into my painting clothes and I’ll get to work on you.” She paused at the door of her room and looked over her shoulder. “What’s your name?”

Jaoque.

She nodded and closed the door to her room, stripping away the clothing from the club and changing into her painting clothes, ragged cutoff shorts with white fringes edging her thighs and an oversized men’s work shirt. She scrubbed the makeup off her face in the bathroom and then walked back into the living room, lifting her paints and brush and diverting her attention to Jaoque.



“Who is that?” Rosa asked with a touch of disgust. Celeste, who was in the process of carving her name and Rosa’s into her bedside table adding “BF4E” under it, didn’t glance up.

“Who is who, Ro?” she asked absently.

“He doesn’t look like one of the tenants. Blue hair. He’s on the stairs and he looks like he’s heading for your door,” Rosa replied. Celeste paused and glanced up. The blue of Celeste’s room, blue walls, blue bedspread with puffy white clouds framed Rosa, blue pillow cases and dark gray blue carpet. Her head was pillowed on a stuffed lavender colored elephant that she had won for Celeste at the county fair four years ago. In her own room, Rosa had the pink dog Celeste had won for her.

No, it couldn’t be him, Celeste dismissed. Her head shot up at the sound of the doorbell. On the other side of the room Esperanza was sprawled across her own bed reading a Baby-sitters Club book.

“Do you want to get that or should I?” she asked even as Celeste was standing to head down to the door.

“I’ll get it. Tell me when you’re hungry and I’ll call out for pizza.” Sophia and Juan, her mother and stepfather, were out at the bar drinking and Celeste was in charge for the evening. Rosa shrugged and stayed on her bed flipping through an issue of Seventeen as Celeste rushed down the stairs and opened the door a crack, leaving the safety chain on.

It was Rico, standing at her door with a bunch of daisies that had, undoubtedly, been picked from Ms. Madeline’s garden across the street. She frowned at him, scrunching up her brows, and he smiled carelessly.

“I came callin’. Hope ‘joo don’ mind,
chica,” he said amiably.

“I do, actually,” she replied. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“Jus’ what I said,
chiquita. Seein’ ‘joo.” He gave her a harmless smile.

“Celeste, who’s at the door?” Esperanza called down the stairs.

“’Joo got company already?” he asked with a perched brow, resting his forearm next to the door and leaning his face in close to hers through the crack.

“No,” she said, and then swore, “yes. Sort of. That’s my little sister, but Rosa’s upstairs.”

“Good, I thought I was gon’ hafta deal wit a jealous boyfriend, no?” He laughed and she flushed. “’Joo gon’ invite me in, baby, or make me stand out here wit a buncha daisies lookin’ like an idiot?”

“Daisies you stole from Ms. Madeline,” she snapped.

“She wasn’ usin’ dem an’ I figured dey’d brighten your day.” His smile was lazy and dangerous. “Come on, Celeste, invite me in. I promise I won’t bite’chu ‘less ‘joo ask me real nice.”

“Celeste!” Esperanza shouted down the stairs.

“Who the heck is down there?” Rosa’s voice joined in the interrogation from the landing.

“It’s just a friend, Ro. It’s not a big deal.” Celeste swallowed and then turned her attention back to Rico. “Um… do you think mom would mind if I invited him in Esperanza?”

“I don’t think mom would mind if we both shaved our heads, tattooed our faces and joined a cult,” Esperanza replied cynically.

“Well now, I might help’chu wit dat, kid,” Rico said easily. “Just ask your
hermana here. I’m one of de bad boys ‘joo should avoid at all costs, si?”

“I
like him, Celeste,” Esperanza said with a giggle. “Let him in. We can make him some hot cocoa. It’s still raining out there and he’s probably freezing.”

“I suppose there isn’t any harm in it,” Rosa said uncertainly. “And hot cocoa does sound good…”

“Looks like I got de seal o’ approval,
chica,” he said with a wink and, feeling horribly outnumbered, Celeste closed the door and slid the safety chain off before reopening it carefully and stepping back, wringing her hands.

“You have to be careful and not break anything,” she ordered. “My mother would have my head if you broke anything.”

“I’ll be real careful like, baby. Now where’s dat hot cocoa ‘joo was promisin’?” He held out the daisies and she took them awkwardly and rushed towards the kitchen. Rosa came down the steps, sized Rico up and then joined Celeste in the kitchen. Celeste was washing out a beer bottle and filling it with water to act as a vase for the daisies.

“You know him?” Rosa asked. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“We met about a week ago,” Celeste answered evasively, and checked the clock. “Looks like it’s about time to call out for that pizza.”

Rosa lifted her purse from the kitchen table and pulled out a twenty. “We’ll get two and I’ll stay for dinner. I imagine that guy out there is hungry too.” She eyed the daisies. “He brought you flowers.”

“Stole them,” Celeste corrected with a shaky laugh. “He’s… strange.”

“Well, we’ll see what he’s made of,” Rosa assured her and gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze.

When Celeste re-entered the living room Esperanza was sitting on the couch reading and Rico was sitting across from her on the other side of the couch. The sagging brown couch faced the sorry television with its bent antennae and two milk crates next to the door lined with shoes. Rico’s attention was on the painting on the wall, a swirl of reds and oranges with a white orb. A black tree, something twining that made her think of Japan whenever she saw it, stood in stark relief against it.

“You do this,
fea?” he asked conversationally.

“I… yes, I did,” she said. “It’s a little plain- sunsets generally are.”

“It’s beautiful,” Rico told her and she flushed again.

“Um, yes, that is thank you. Er, well. Esperanza, pick your two toppings,” she said, turning her attention on her younger sister.

“Mushrooms and sausage.”

“I want green peppers and pepperoni,” Rosa interjected and Celeste jotted them down.

“Fine, I want sun dried tomatoes and roasted garlic,” she said, and then glanced at Rico.

“Black olives and onions?” he asked hopefully and Celeste smiled then.

“I hate onions!” Esperanza complained and Rico solemnly bowed his head.

“Change that to black olives and an’ extra cheese den,” he said and Esperanza grinned at him.

“Okay, we’ll get the Hippie Revenge with it too,” Celeste decided and headed for the phone.

“That means you get two pizzas with sun dried tomatoes on them!” Esperanza shouted after her.

“Don’t forget who has to do the dishes,” Celeste argued and picked up the phone, dialing the number for the pizza place. “And I get artichoke hearts too. Mmm!”

“Damn it,” Esperanza muttered and Rosa smacked the back of her head sternly. “Hey!” the young girl shouted.

“Watch your mouth,” Rosa warned.

In the kitchen Celeste put on the kettle and then stared at her reflection in the rain-slicked window.
Do not freak out, she ordered herself. It is not a big deal. Then she went to join everyone in the living room.

“I put the water on for hot cocoa,” she told them. Rosa had taken the armchair, which left the couch cushion next to Rico. She stood uncomfortably next to the couch, twisting her fingers around each other.

“You could try sittin’ down,
chica,” Rico said, amused, and patted the cushion next to him. She stepped cautiously over and sank into the cushion, scooting closer to Esperanza.

“Hey Celeste, did you finish that essay for Mr. Allen’s class?” Rosa asked and Celeste nodded with a sigh.

“It was pretty boring,” she replied.

“Yeah, that book was totally dull,” Rosa agreed and Celeste shrugged.

“It wasn’t that. I’ve always found Hemmingway to be a bit of an alcoholic misogynist and his views are startlingly clear in his literature,” she explained and Esperanza nodded.

“They aren’t doing Sir Arthur?” she asked conversationally and Celeste smiled to her.

Celeste and Esperanza, before their biological father had died, had learned quite a bit from him. He was a lit major in college and had worked at the university. Albeit as a janitor but he was more intelligent than most of the professors. He had passed on to his daughters and son a love of literature. Since he had read
Sherlock Holmes to the girls when they had been younger they both had a great appreciation for it.

“Of course not, though I hear Cicerella’s doing
Once and Future King for literary analysis,” she replied.

“You’re taking lit anal?” Rosa asked, surprised. “I thought they only let juniors and seniors into that class!”

“Mr. C made an exception for me and we got something signed by the counselor,” she explained. Rico rested his arm on the back of the couch, dangerously close to the nape of her neck.

“Honey ‘joo didn’t tell me ‘joo was some kinda genius,” he said teasingly.

“I’m not. I just like English class,” she replied stiffly. He leaned in closer, grinning wickedly.

“Oooh. Always had a ting for de brainy types,” he murmured. Esperanza set down her book and looked over at him.

“Hey,” she said. “Are you Celeste’s boyfriend?” The comment had Celeste sputtering and Rico laughing.

“Not yet,” he said. “Not yet.” Celeste came to her feet and started towards the kitchen.

“I better put the kettle on!” she said quickly.

“I thought you said you already did that?” Esperanza asked skeptically.

“I better check it then!” she choked and rushed into the kitchen.

When the pizza came they were settled around a Monopoly board and Esperanza was five thousand dollars ahead. Celeste was frugal and Rico was doing fairly well. Rosa was in debt and mortgaging her properties right and left. They moved easily from Monopoly to Scategories, which Celeste dominated, munching on pesto, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, red onions, and feta cheese. Her favorite pizza, after all, came fully loaded. After that it seemed only natural to turn on the television to watch Jeopardy which Rosa seemed to know all the answers to, and from there on to Wheel of Fortune which Rico proved he was quite good at. They broke out the cards and played Go Fish until eleven thirty when Celeste glanced at the clock.

“You need to go to bed, Esperanza,” she said. “Rosa and I will sleep down here. We’ll be quiet.” Esperanza rubbed at her eyes.

“I’m not tired,” she protested lamely and then sighed and came to her feet. “Okay…” she muttered, before turning brightly to Rico. “Goodnight Rico. It was really nice meeting you.”

“You too, kiddo. Sleep tight.” He waved to her as she trudged up the stairs and started brushing her teeth. “She’s a nice girl,” he said absently.

“Bright kid,” Rosa agreed. After a moment Esperanza called down the stairs.

“Hey Celeste? Could you… uh… bring up my book?” Celeste stuck her tongue in her cheek and picked up the book, heading up the stairs. She knew Esperanza wanted her to turn off the light for her but didn’t want Rico to know. Once in the bedroom she placed the book on the shelf and turned off the light, moving to sit on the edge of Esperanza’s bed. “I really like him, Celeste.”

“He’s growing on me,” Celeste admitted, leaning down to kiss her sister on the forehead. “Just feel lucky we don’t have Mass tomorrow. You’d fall asleep in the pew.”

“Sister Cleo hates it when I do that,” Esperanza said, making a face and then yawning.

“Nighty-night, sweetie,” Celeste murmured even as Esperanza slipped down into dreams.

Downstairs Rico and Rosa were engaged in a game of poker over pretzels. “Join in,” Rosa offered.

“We could make it strip poker,” Rico said with a grin, earning himself a stern glare from Celeste.

“No thank you, Rico. Just plain poker will do.” She settled down onto her stomach and took the hand dealt.

They played until one, when Rosa stood and stretched. “I’m going to go brush my teeth. I’m bushed.”

“Me too,” Celeste agreed. Rosa pounded up the stairs to the bathroom and Celeste sat up and stretched. “You should probably be heading on your way,” she said quietly. “It’s getting late and mom and Juan will be back soon.” He nodded and leaned in closer, hand coming to caress the side of her face ever so gently, fingertips trailing down her cheek and following the line of her jaw to brush across her lips. Celeste held her breath as he moved his face to within an inch of hers, his breath warm on her lips as his fingers curled in her hair.

No. No, you just met him. No.

Celeste jerked back before his lips could find hers and he arched a brow. “I got bad breath or sum’tin?” he asked with a laugh, but released her instantly.

“Um, no, it’s just that… that is… I…” She pursed her lips and looked away. His hand closed over hers and lifted it so that he could brush his lips against her knuckles.

“It’s okay,
chica,” he murmured. “I understand… dis time. Next time ‘joo ain’ gon’ be so lucky.” He smirked and came to his feet as she sat, stunned by the linger feeling, the tenderness of his lips on her hand and watched as he opened the door. “Put de safety chain on, Celeste. I’m gon’ come back an’ see you again.”

“I know,” she said, her voice feeling strangely hoarse. “I’d tell you to stay the hell away but Esperanza’s fond of you.”

“Lucky me,” he said with a playful grin. “Sweet dreams. ‘Joo tink of me tonight baby,
si?”

“I’m not making any promises,” she assured him breathlessly.

“Course not,
chica. I was.” He winked and shut the door behind him. On unsteady legs, Celeste stood and walked to the door, sliding the safety chain into place before leaning back against it holding her trembling hand to her neck and smiling foolishly.
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Old 10-01-2002, 03:20 PM   #4   [permalink]
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“Celeste!” Rosa leaned across the counter at the video rental and snapped her fingers in front of her friend’s face. “Wake up!”

“I am awake,” Celeste said defensively, and tried not to yawn.

“I called Doc and he told me you didn’t sleep a wink last night. What are you, crazy? Did you forget you had to work today or something?” Rosa stamped her foot irritably.

“Or something,” Celeste replied mildly. “I just had to work on Jaoque.”

“Jaoque? This a new boyfriend I didn’t hear about?” Rosa asked with a quirked brow.

“No,” Celeste replied. “It’s… the name of this painting I’m working on.”

“Hmm… was that the wing I saw when I came by?” Rosa asked.

“That was part of it,” Celeste explained. “I’m thinking five canvases, in the shape of the cross. That way you’ll be able to see his wings to their best advantage and I won’t waste any space.”

“Is this a new piece you’re working on for Mr. White?” Rosa questioned, resting her elbows on the counter.

“No, I haven’t done much work for William recently,” Celeste said, wondering what had ever happened to the man who had been buying her paintings. “This is for me.”

Rosa sighed and rubbed her temple, trying to soothe a headache no doubt. “Look, Celeste, I wanted you to hear this from me first before you heard it through the rumor mill. Some people saw Rico the other day… out with another girl.”

Celeste stopped in the middle of scanning in one of the videos. She stopped, feeling the strange, quivering pain in her chest, the bubbling hurt in her stomach, and then smothered it with a smile. “Did she seem nice?” she asked conversationally. Rosa stared at her for a moment.

“Um… Celeste… maybe you didn’t hear exactly what I said,” Rosa said gently.

“I heard you, Ro,” Celeste said brightly. “But don’t forget, Rico and I broke up. It’s his business if he wants to start seeing someone else.”

“---- that!” Rosa snapped. “---- that and ---- him! Goddamnit Celeste, it isn’t fair!”

“Life rarely is,” Celeste murmured. “I’ve noticed that if people learn to deal with that then they can lead a more balanced existence.”

“He hurt you,” Rosa whispered. “I don’t like seeing that he hurt you.”

“No,” Celeste said with a cheery smile. “It was all very civilized. Now he’s seeing someone else and that’s fine. If I had a mind to I could go see someone else too.”

“Why don’t you?” Rosa demanded and Celeste shrugged.

“I haven’t felt like seeing anyone. I’m not going to go out with the first guy who jumps at me just because Rico’s got himself a new girlfriend. If I ever date again it’ll be because I’m in love. I’m not in love right now.”

Liar, came the tiny, whispering voice from her heart.

Come home and paint, Jaoque crooned in her ear. Come home and paint and I’ll make you well again.

Celeste carefully looked up at the clock. A half an hour and she would be free to go home and lift her brushes, find solace in Jaoque’s outstretched wings. She had sketched him in to the other canvases with pencil, and now, save his single ebony wing stretched out he stood like a pale ghost on fog, faceless and awaiting her hand.

“Oh God Celeste, I’m so afraid for you,” Rosa managed in a hushed whisper. “I keep feeling like your slipping away and I don’t want to lose you.”

“Rosa,” Celeste said reassuringly, “everything is fine. You don’t need to worry. I guess this calm came with maturity.”

You thought he would marry you. You thought he would love you forever. You thought he would never leave, her heart hissed in her ear.

Come home and let me comfort you. Come home and let me help you.

“Just promise me that if you need to talk you’ll hook your damn phone back up and call me. Just… just hook your phone up again Celeste, so that I can call you. I promise I’ll only call once a day.” Rosa clutched her hand as she spoke. “I just worry so much about you.”

“I’ll hook my phone back in,” Celeste told her, “but I’m turning the ringer off while I paint.”

“Just as long as you check your messages every now and then,” Rosa said with a nervous laugh.

“I will,” Celeste promised, feeling strangely light.




She came to Jaoque as soon as she was through the door, kneeling on the tarp next to his wing and sobbing uncontrollably.

Celeste, Celeste, don’t cry. Pick up the paintbrush and don’t cry my dearest one. Give me your tears and I’ll make the pain go away.

She sniffled, came to her feet, lifted the brush and the paint and then started painting, throwing her agony, jealousy, rage, pain, and hurt into the painting. When it was done she stumbled into the kitchen, famished, and ate deli slices of turkey plain washing it down with a glass of milk and three spoonfuls of peanut butter. Exhausted, drained, she staggered to bed, barely remembering to shed her paint-splashed clothes before curling into bed nude, too tired to change into a nightshirt and falling asleep on top of her blanket.

She woke four hours later, freezing cold, and got under the blanket, retrieving the previous night’s nightshirt from the floor and slipping into it. She lay shivering beneath her blanket, staring at the wall, before her eyelids grew heavy once more and she slipped back into sleep.

She slept for twelve hours, feverish. She occasionally surfaced to find Doc sitting next to her bed with a glass of water. She vaguely registered that she had to go to work before sliding down under the lake of unconsciousness. She was too hot, too cold, shaking, drenched in sweat, and weak. When Doc, she supposed, had to go to work Rosa was there, feeding her chicken noodle soup and murmuring in worried tones over her. Sometimes Esperanza was there, holding her hand and praying quietly.

She slept.




There was something to be said for the park in the rain. Slick green leaves, decorated with bursts of pink and red from the rhododendron bushes, dripped water down on to the cement path that meandered past low benches and stone chessboards set throughout the park. A series of broken pieces of whitewash stone in the shape of an elm tree rested underneath her scuffed sneakers and at their base a much smaller elm grew. In time it would fill out to the stone shadow laid before it.

The Shadow of the Elm was Celeste’s favorite place to visit. Even though her jeans were starting to soak through at the thigh, she stood beneath her umbrella, riding up at one wire on the side, marveling at the young tree. Later, she would muse, he must have thought she looked rather naïve, a girl in scuffed sneakers, faded black jeans, thick green sweater, and green rain slicker with the hood down, rain sparkling in her hair and a broken umbrella in her hand. The rosary lay in stark relief against the jacket. Celeste was alerted to Rico’s presence by his sneeze.

She turned slowly and took him in, standing behind her with his thumbs hooked into the waistband of his too-large pants, his only concession to the rain being a tee shirt underneath the vest. She shifted the bag of groceries, trading her umbrella hand for them and sighed, shaking her head.

“Don’t you ever watch the weather channel?” she asked and he gave her a lazy grin that was marred by another sneeze.

“Sometimes,” he admitted. “What about ‘joo? What ‘joo doin’ out here in de rain,
chica?”

“Grocery shopping,” she said, holding up the plastic bag. “We were low on a couple things at home.” And her mother and Juan had each been too drunk to drive out to the grocery store. “Why aren’t you in your car?”

“Left it at home,” he murmured and stepped closer. “Celeste if ‘joo don’t let me share dat umbrella wit’chu I’m gon’ break down an’ cry. ‘Joo don’t wanta see dat.” She giggled and held the umbrella up higher so that he could step under it.

“Just to keep you from crying,” she told him with a smile and he leaned over her.

“Let me take ‘joo out on a date on Saturday, Celeste,” he pleaded and Celeste shook her head.

“I don’t think I could… I mean, I have to watch Esperanza on Saturday. Juan and mom have things to do,” she hedged and Rico arched a brow.

“I could come over an’ help ‘joo wit her,” he offered and she looked up at him with a dazzling smile.

“Esperanza and I are calling out for some weird stuff to eat on Saturday. Are you sure?” she asked and he nodded.

“Baby, dere’s nothing I wanna do more den spend de evenin’ wit’chu.” His fingertips brushed the back of her hand and his smile, instead of dangerous, was rather wistful. “Don’t know what de hell ‘joo done to my head,
chica, but I can’t stop tinkin' ‘bout’chu.”

“Rico, please, I can’t… I mean…” Celeste stuttered, preparing to take a step back when his hand closed over hers and liberated the groceries from her grasp.

“I’m jus’ gon’ help ‘joo get dese home, Celeste,” he told her with a wink.





Dreams and sleep, dreams and sleep, she was sinking further into them, losing herself. Dreams and sleep, dreams and sleep, she could smell his hair, still feel the way he felt when he stood close. Body heat, heartbeats coalescing, and promises whispered that she couldn’t deal with. Not now, not then. She couldn’t deal with them.

I don’t love him anymore. I don’t love him anymore.

“I don’t love him anymore,” Celeste whispered through gritted teeth, half asleep and drenched with sweat. “I don’t love him anymore.”

Liar, liar, liar, her heart chanted.


Celeste opened the door to find Rico standing there. “You’re prompt,” she commented, glancing at the clock. It was seven on the nose. “Mom and Juan are going to a movie and a concert, then they’ll probably hit the party afterwards. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Rico!” Esperanza squealed, hopping forward. “We got some movies too! We can watch them and Celeste is calling out for our favorite! You’re gonna love it!”

“Hey there,
chiquita,” he said with a laugh, reaching out to muss Esperanza’s hair. “Slow down. What’s the movie selection for de night?”

“We’ve got some classic Vincent Price, a couple Bogart films, and my personal favorite
Sunset Boulevard.” Celeste grinned. “We’ve got a thing for old movies.”

“Den so do I,” Rico told her. “So what’ for dinner, Esperanza?”

Esperanza waggled her eyebrows, giggling. “Squid!”

Rico paled. “
Que…? Squid?”

“We
really like sushi,” Esperanza said solemnly.

“Like… raw fish?” Rico asked uncertainly and Esperanza giggled.

“We ordered a side of tempura for you,” Celeste told him gently. “And I’m making miso soup with buckwheat soba in the other room.”

“Damn girl, ‘joo got me worried. But I bet’chu cook like de pros,” he smirked and Celeste flushed, pleased with the compliment.

“Well, you can save your judgment until after you’ve tried it,” she said. “Now I better go start on the onions and carrots.” She turned and rushed into the kitchen, barely registering Esperanza’s question.

“Do you like my sister?”

Burning with embarrassment, Celeste began chopping vegetables, focusing on the meal. After a few moments Rico joined her in the kitchen.

“There’s… ah… there’s soda in the refrigerator,” she told him nervously, turning on the stove. He opened the door to the pleasant hum and rush of cool air, pushed past gouda cheese and tuna fish and found the twelve-pack of generic brand sodas. Popping the top on two he handed one of them to Celeste. “Thanks,” she said quietly.

“Who’s got de ting for de fancy cheese?” he asked and Celeste grinned.

“Esperanza’s favorite lunch box meal,” she said knowingly. “Tuna with onions, pickles, and red vinegar on four seed bread with gouda cheese and black olives. Now that will fill a kid up at lunch time.”

“’Joo two health nuts or sum’tin?” he asked and Celeste shook her head.

“No, our father was and I suppose, in a way, that he passed it on to us,” she was stirring onions, carrots, chard, broccoli, and squash in a saucepan and bringing a pot with brown noodles in it to a boil. Rico slid up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, causing Celeste to flinch and burn her finger just as he was beginning to ask about the past tense in the statement. Celeste yelped and he yanked her away from the stove.

“Are ‘joo okay? Are ‘joo hurt?” His hand grasped hers and he stared at the red burn on the side of her finger. Dragging her over to the sink he stuck her hand under cold water. “I’m sorry, baby, I didn’ mean t’scare ‘joo. Are ‘joo okay?”

“I’m okay,” she managed, breathless. “It’s just a little burn.” She was watching the concern on his face and holding her breath.

Rico paused and reached out, slowly turning off the water. Still holding her wrist her brought her closer, his free hand dancing down to press at the small of her back. He leaned in, his eyes never leaving her face, and pressed his lips to her cheek just beneath her eye. He kissed again, a fraction lower, and began a lazy journey, a trail of kisses towards her lips. There was a hushed moment as he carefully brushed his lips over hers, tender as the beat of a butterfly’s wing.

“Celeste,” he murmured, and leaned down to kiss her, really kiss her that time.

“Celeste!” Esperanza shouted from the living room. Celeste jumped, hit her head on an open cupboard and swore. Rico groaned in frustration. “Sushi guy is here!”

“Um… coming!” Celeste called, rubbing the top of her head and trying to edge around Rico. He still held her wrist.

“We gon’ finish dat, baby,” he told her, sliding his arms around her again. She pressed her hands to the front of his chest and gently pushed him away.

“I have to go pay the delivery boy,” she told him, and walked to the living room, grabbing her purse along the way.

From the kitchen she heard the sound of water running and someone splashing it on their face.





She was rising, rising through thick, hot water and bubbling to the surface, finding still air and a cool hand on her brow. Opening her eyes slowly, she saw Doc watching her quietly. There was a man in a yellow turtleneck and a tweed jacket next to him adjusting wire rimmed glasses.

“This is the doctor, Celeste,” Doc told her and she realized that he had asked one of them to make a house call. Was she really that sick?

“Thirsty,” she managed in a hoarse, dry voice. Doc held a glass of water and supported the back of her head, helping her drink and then let her settle back on the pillow.

“Ms. de Estrella?” the doctor began, “I’m Dr. Logan. You’ve given everyone quite a scare.”

“Screws are coming undone,” she told him, half-lucid. “Gotta keep the screws in. Jaoque… Jaoque needs… help me… Jaoque, help me… Rico…”
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Old 10-01-2002, 03:21 PM   #5   [permalink]
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It seemed natural to sit next to him on the couch after Esperanza had gone to bed, seemed natural to let him gather her up against him while they watched Sunset Boulevard. His arms were comforting around her and the steady pulse of his heart beneath her ear was hypnotic. His breath stirred the hair on the top of her head and one of his hands lazily stroked her bare arm. When the movie came to an end, Celeste yawned and checked the clock.

“It’s nearly midnight and I’ve got mass tomorrow morning,” she told him sleepily. He smirked and kissed her forehead affectionately.

“I guess it’d be wrong o’ me t’ask if I can stay de night, eh baby?” he said and Celeste, only half awake, shrugged.

“It’s not a problem. The couch unfolds into a bed,” she said and yawned. Rico laughed and after a moment she realized what he had been asking. “What I mean is--!” she exclaimed and he shook his head.

“Shh. ‘s okay,
chica. I sleep on de couch den, si?” He chuckled and drew her up closer. “But I still get a goodnight kiss.”

It was a certain pleasure of Esperanza’s to remind her older sister that she had gone out on a date and Celeste hadn’t. Of course, the date had been roller-skating with Declan O’Malley, a red head with too many freckles, and his parents had been along as neither of them had been much older than nine. Part of Celeste had always feared that her baby sister would get kissed first as well. Rico’s arms were strong and warm, one hand cupping the back of her head and the other at the small of her back again and when his mouth finally closed over hers, sweet and tempting, she felt her head swim. Celeste clutched the front of his shirt and let his lips work magic over her until she was swooning, grateful that she was already half lying on the couch as she was certain she would have fallen over had she been standing. Seductions of teeth and tongue and mouth, the faintest nibble, and she was under.

She felt his hands fist in her hair and then he broke away.

“Go on, go to bed. Don’ come downstairs,
mami, else ol’ Rico’s gon’ lose all control. ‘Joo make me crazy, Celeste.” He sighed against her neck, his hands lazily stroking along her back. “Now go.”

She stood hastily, fidgeted for a moment, and then nodded to him. “Okay. Okay.” She let out a long breath, uncertain whether she should thank him or not and then turned, pulling an extra blanket and pillow out of the linen closet and tossing them to him, slightly afraid to move within reach of him. “Er… well… goodnight.”

“Sweet dreams, Celeste,” he called after her as she rushed up the stairs.





The room was painfully, clinically white. Celeste cracked her left eye open, winced audibly and squeezed her eyes shut against the pounding headache. She turned onto her side and peered through slit eyes at Doc, his five-o-clock shadow having turned into an unkempt beard and his eyes bloodshot and shadowed. She offered him a weak smile and propped herself up on one arm.

“Hi,” she said sleepily.

“Hi yourself,” he replied with a relieved smile.

“What time is it?” she asked with a yawn.

“Nine in the morning. You’ve been out for a week,” he held a hand before she could get the strangled, startled sound past her throat. “Esperanza and Rosa stood in for you at the video rental. Your boss sends his best wishes and hopes you get well soon.” He nodded to her slowly. “It’s good to see you awake.”

“Yeah,” she breathed. “It’s good to be awake. Where am I?”

“Hospital,” he answered shortly. “Dr. Logan demanded you be brought here after you episode during his house call.”

The door opened and Dr. Logan, in a light green turtleneck instead of a yellow one and a lab coat, stepped inside, looking over a chart. “Good morning, Ms. Celeste,” he said cheerily. “The nurse told me you seemed to be waking up.”

“What’s the diagnosis?” Celeste asked, fiddling with the controls on the side of her bed until she was sitting up.

“Familiar with the terms ‘exhaustion’ ‘stress’ and ‘malnutrition’?” he asked with a bright smile. “You haven’t been eating enough leafy greens and you sure as hell haven’t been sleeping enough. You’re working too hard, Detective Parkson tells me that you’ve been doing a lot of painting and forgetting to sleep.”

“I only forget to sleep sometimes,” Celeste said dryly. “When can I go home?”

“Well, I’d say today as long as you promise not to do anything too strenuous,” Dr. Logan mused. “No smoking, sumo wrestling, or all-nighters, okay?”

“Sounds fair,” Celeste replied. Then, “leafy greens, huh?”

“Damn straight,” Dr. Logan said with a sage nod. “I’m okay with you returning to the video rental as long as you don’t put in any overtime. I think Detective Parkson will keep a close eye on you to make sure.”

“That’s for sure,” Doc said, letting out a long breath. “The girl scared ten years off my life.”

“Age looks distinguished on you,” Celeste reassured him and patted his wrist. The exchanged smiles and Celeste realized that it was good to have someone she could call “Dad”.

~--------------------------------~

That's all I have finished right now. I want to work more on it and make it better. I want to get to the point where things get really good. Um, that's about it.
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Old 13-01-2002, 09:21 PM   #6   [permalink]
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Very interesting. You should write more of this!
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