Celeste is ready to put the past behind her- until the dream.
|Her eyes flew open, the magnitude of the dream still lingering in her vision. The swirls of darkness lulled above her bed, the last of it lazily rising from her still form. Celeste pressed her eyes closed, willing it away. Please just leave, she pleaded silently, you aren’t real─ you can’t be real. She opened her eyes, and focused her vision. The last of the fluid seeped into the ceiling, leaving behind a discolored smudge on the surface. A rustling sounded and she turned her gaze to John. His hair stood out in stark contrast against the sheet; a sea of black on a golden beach. Celeste had always wanted to feel connected with others. But now, she wasn’t so certain. If she were being completely honest with herself, it terrified her.
John sighed softly, and then turned on his side. She stared openly at the chiseled lines along his back. He was a firm believer in physical and mental health and worked hard. Her eyes lingered on the pale flesh, and frowned at the scar that ran from the two points between John’s shoulder blades. It was a jagged, ugly line. She once had touched the uneven flesh, unable to hide her astonishment.
When he had quickly moved to cover himself, she knew it was a mistake for her to do that. It was the first time his lips had graced hers, during the cold winter last December. They had spent the weekend in her Father’s cabin along the slopes in Aspen. It was John’s first time to travel anywhere, let alone see real snow. He had lived in Texas his whole life.
She would never forget that night. They were snuggled by the fire as he read his favorite bits of poetry from random online authors. This was where he found his inspiration for his work─ poets that didn’t receive recognition or wrote anonymously. His sculptures were profoundly beautiful. He was considered a modern Bernini among his clients. Most of them were portraits of mythological creatures, angels, and people. John’s captures of other people’s lives were so inspiring it often brought her to tears. It looked as though the stone could get up and walk away. Every single detail was hand-molded, even down to the flaws. His stone fabric flowed as if it were a real garment.
If his sculptures were beautiful, his paintings even more so. He captured the very essence of his subjects; the words from each poet depicted as a scene or person, and then added such colors you would swear it was not possible for those to exist.
The amount of life he placed into them was otherworldly─ just like him. Celeste’s gaze fell to the addition on her left hand. Encased with a silver band was a princess-cut solitaire. The centered stone was her birthstone, garnet. She never found diamonds appealing, they were just so plain. Her eyes wandered to the Baroque paintings and décor in the room. Father spoiled her too much. He knew it was her favorite period in art and made it a point to collect things for her over the years. Each piece of furniture that surrounded her was dainty and hand-carved from dark mahogany wood. She adored the crushed red velvet that lined the pieces. The chaise next to the fire was her absolute favorite. Every night she would curl up with her blanket, book in hand. Celeste knew it was old-fashioned. Most of her friends had some type of reader, but there was something special about holding a book next to the fire. It brought back memories from her childhood. Mama had read to her every night. She would get an eReader eventually, but for now she was content with paperbacks.
Celeste smiled at the crimson drapes along the windows. It was her first real purchase, one of the few things she could be proud of. She had to defend them constantly against her friends. They said it made the room look like something out of a Dracula book. She stuck her tongue out at them mentally. Let them think what they wanted─ she preferred it that way. Shows spun along her marble sculptures, encasing the young mother and child holding hands. It was as if it welcomed them to the shadow realm. She relaxed, thinking that maybe this time the dream left her with nothing to fear. The tap of the Japanese maple soothed her as it brushed lazily across the house.
The tree was a present from Father sent from their old home in Tokyo. Celeste had always been fond of them, so for her twentieth birthday, he surprised her with one. Shaking her head she grinned at the stubbornness of the old man. A crackling came from the foot of the bed and she jerked toward the sound. She chuckled, feeling foolish. It’s just the fire place girl, get a grip, she scolded mentally. It was one of the major selling points for Celeste. Even though she lived in Texas, and winter lasted all of three months, she used it every year. The fire place separated her small library from the bed, yet kept it open enough for her to see outside. Unable to sleep Celeste stretched and pushed back the covers. With cat-like grace, she slipped from the bed careful to not wake John.
She grabbed her robe from the chaise and left the room. Emerging from the hall, her attention fell to the left. Celeste’s white gown billowed around her frame as she stopped in place. By the French doors loomed her mother's piano, an oasis of red against the desert-white walls. The keys were worn, but she could never replace it. Celeste knew it was silly, but somehow the thought of replacing it would feel as if the last of her mother would disappear. She trailed the length of the case, and then pulled it back to reveal the ivory keys. She sat down and placed her delicate hands on the cool surface. Her hands felt jerky, and then smoothed out as she eased herself into the composition.
Celeste swayed back and forth lost in its melody. There was something of familiarity to it. Celeste could never remember when she had learned to play it, and yet, the song flowed from her fingertips. She strummed the last chord, the air thick with silence. It left her longing for the past. Why did you have to die? Her mother’s smile flashed through her mind. She was always so kind. When Mama entered a room, everyone would light up in her presence. You were always so warm, Celeste thought.
She rose from the bench and glided from the piano to the patio doors. The Moon’s light drew her close, and she pressed herself into the glass, longing to feel the night on her skin. She clutched at the doors and thrust them open. The Moon sensed her, emitting a soft hum as it pulsed─ her own life force felt a part of it. She looked on, captivated by its beauty. She tore her eyes away and moved from the threshold to her favorite spot on the patio.
Celeste relaxed on the wooden swing, her legs dangling back and forth. Her skin shone like porcelain in the moonlight, further emphasizing her doll-like figure. She stared down from the patio ledge; the wind gently combing through her long, obsidian hair. Celeste swept a strand from her eyes, troubled by the thoughts that traveled through her mind. She stared at the untouched gardens, the plant life swaying to the Earth’s sigh. It had been years since Celeste felt so wonderful. John was the best thing that had happened to her this past year.
It was coming back, she could feel it. The curse was returning. She cringed as thoughts snaked through her mind. They undulated and curled, twisting around and securing a space comfortably in the confines of her head. She gasped, as it bit down, pumping the venom throughout her mind─ its poison lapping at the wounds. No more, she silently begged. Please. Clutching her head, Celeste screamed. John, please, no. The thought echoed through her mind over and over until it lost all meaning. She hugged her knees to her chest as the tears flowed. Images of people lost to her flashed within seconds of one another, their faces full of contempt. Smiles leered from the dark cracks and crevices. They were calling to her, begging her. For what, she could not hear. Their grip was ice cold against her burning flesh as they drew their limbs around her body. Her mind screamed in agony as each entity burned through, trying to be heard. The last image shard rained across her mind like sirens to the damned. Unable to stand it, her eyes looked upon the pure, heavenly body as she pleaded to the sky.
"Kami-Sama, I understand. I cannot escape my fate.” Celeste drew herself up on the railing and looked down. The god had heard her plea, she could feel it. She shut her eyes and filled her lungs with the wintry air─ It was crisp, and clear. For the first time Celeste knew what to do. A breath passed and she threw herself from the edge. Like an angel her white gown flowed behind her, the illusion of wings on her dark form. For a moment, she felt the cleansing glow from the Moon and she longed to feel that light a fraction longer. The sounds of the passing cars filtered through, their drivers’ unaware of the fast descending girl to meet her end. She felt the wind, and looked out among the sprinkle of lights where families lay dreaming in their warm beds. Celeste smiled. It was the right thing to do. The last of her thoughts were left to the wind as the defending blow reverberated down the street.
* * *
The loud thud woke Celeste from her dream as she lay screaming. Shaken, she looked around and realized that she had fallen out of bed. Just a dream, she thought. She got up and sighed, apologizing to John about the scream. She paused and frowned at the empty space on the bed. He hadn’t come over tonight. Not surprised, she mused. Then Celeste remembered John had mentioned a meeting early in the morning with a client. He had probably stayed at his place Downtown. She picked up her phone to check, and then placed it back on the stand─ Of course not. Lately, he had barely even called. It had been a week since she last heard from him. Her mind switched to the dream. What did it mean? She wondered.
Celeste glanced down at her barren hand. Why had she dreamed that John had given her a ring? He had asked her questions about how she felt about marriage, sure, but he had not asked yet. Maybe one day, she thought wistfully. Or you’re just fooling yourself. John had been spending long hours away from her. It wasn’t as if marriage defined her, or she would simply fall over and die from not being married. She simply wanted to. Things had felt right with John. Of course, Celeste had the University to keep her busy, and her piano students, but it was not enough to fill the gap she had been feeling. John was still warm and loving with the time they spent together. In any case they both were happy, and that’s all that mattered. Father had been harsh on John lately telling him to get a life.
Celeste crossed her room and walked out to the kitchen. Her throat felt like cotton and her hands shook as she grabbed the edge of the counter. I’ve never had a dream like that before, she thought. Celeste snatched orange juice from the refrigerator, gulping it down. She was wiping her mouth when a series of loud knocks erupted at the front door. Who could be here at this hour? She wondered as she glanced at the clock. Four a.m. − who in the world?
She left the kitchen and slowly walked down the stairs to the front entrance. Standing on her tip-toes Celeste peeked through the peep hole. It took her a minute to focus as she flipped the outside light on. Sighing, she unlocked the door. It was her neighbor Sally. Probably heard me screaming my lungs out, she guessed as she pulled it open. Standing before Celeste was a very unhappy Sally − arms crossed, and a scowl in place.
"Celeste, what on God's-green-Earth is going on over here? It's four o'clock in the morning and I have to take the boys to school in a couple of hours.” Celeste opened her mouth to respond but did not get a word out before Sally talked right over, “Not to mention, oh I don't know─ you scared the bejesus outta all of us." It took all of Celeste's strength not to giggle at her neighbor. She pronounced 'bejesus' with a southern drawl. She started, realizing that it wasn’t just Sally standing outside.
Celeste leaned out and glanced at several of the neighbor’s worried faces. She waved nervously and apologized. “Sorry, everyone, I had a horrific dream.” They didn’t move, one of her neighbors that had lived there before her spoke up. He had an air of confidence in his speech, someone that took to authority well, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to get in your business, but─” he shifted from his left leg to his right, glancing up the stairs. “That was some yell─ it woke up half the neighborhood.” His eyes rested on hers and he softened his tone, “Only reason I didn’t call it in is because I wanted to make sure before I went bothering anyone at the station.” That’s right, now she remembered; her neighbor was a police officer. She frowned trying to remember his name. Was it Geoffrey? No that didn’t seem right, George maybe? They all stared at her quietly and she realized they might be taking it for something else. She quickly shook her head, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten any of you. It was honestly just a bad dream.” The man nodded, appearing relieved and walked over to his wife. She waved again, feeling stupid as they all shuffled back to their house.
She winced, as Sally didn’t move from the doorway. Didn’t the lady ever catch a hint? Glaring, Sally went to say something else but Celeste quickly intervened, "I'm sorry I woke you, Mrs. Henderson, I’ll try to keep it down." Nodding, she gave Sally her best 'I'm sorry' look and began to close the door. Sally, like Celeste knew she would, put her foot in the door and continued talking. She always had to get that last word in. Celeste missed the polite neighbors from Japan.
"Well, alright. I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You know you can't be too careful these days. What, with all the murders going on." Sally ran fingers through her frizzy hair, her eyes darting outside then back to Celeste. The curls seemed to have a life of their own as the copper strands bounced back into Sally’s face. She had that kind of hair you wanted to touch, just to watch it bounce. Her light mood darkened as Celeste remembered about the murders Sally spoke of. Now it made sense, the neighbors weren’t just concerned about a scream. They thought…oh god. Now she really felt awful. She made a mental note to write an apology to everyone, maybe send them something.
The deaths were a great shock to the local community. It was all her students talked about on campus anymore. Every time she turned on the news it seemed like there was another murder. So far they had uncovered seven bodies. Were they ever going to catch this guy? All the victims shared appearance; dark hair, and petite. The main connection was how they were murdered. Each was found in some type of water and drained of blood. It sounded like some kind of lame vampire flick.
When Celeste didn’t respond Sally added, "I just wanted to make sure, you know?" She paused and peered over Celeste's shoulder looking inside. Sally dwarfed Celeste with her large German frame. She was solidly built, but lumpy, much like a sack of potatoes. Her eyes, though a vivid blue, were much too small and set close together. She appeared to be in her late forties, possibly early fifties, but wore clothes that no self-respecting sixty-year-old would touch. She looked like something straight out of a bad 1970’s flick. Sally dwarfed her, but it didn’t take much. Celeste was a slight girl of, mostly, Japanese descent. She had large, expressive brown eyes and a blending of features. She had a more round nose, yet a petite jaw line. Her hair was a soft black and her skin a peachy white. She was tormented maliciously in Japan, they called her half-breed. It was something Celeste was very self-conscious of.
When she moved to the States with her adoptive parents, kids had been slightly more forgiving.
Her adoptive mother had known little about her past. She had always assumed that an American soldier had fathered her, or a European man. She long came to the conclusion that she probably brought shame to her real mother, so her biological mother gave her up for adoption. But that is all she could do was guess, she had never known the truth. Celeste had the kind of frame that people found adorable. If only they knew how annoying it was to have to use a step ladder every time she needed something. Forget trying to see anything at a concert.
She looked to Sally. The old minx would have put Nancy Drew to shame. The woman may have been frumpy in her appearance, but that’s where it ended. She had the sort of keen eyes that missed nothing. She hadn’t missed the fact that the old woman had checked both her shoe rack at the front door and the coat hanger. Ever since Celeste could remember it had been this way─ always at her front door, snooping around and asking questions about her life; especially about John. He had a tough exterior but on the inside John was gentle as a kitten. It was a shame that people had a habit of only seeing with their eyes. Saying her good nights and apologies she closed the door in Sally's face.
* * *
Adagio in D minor blared as she turned down Ross Avenue. The warm air felt wonderful against her cheeks. She had been running errands all morning for her father. Celeste snagged a spot between two cars and walked into her favorite coffee shop Downtown. A double espresso with a shot of vanilla was calling her name. She smiled thinking about the date that she and John would get to go on tomorrow night. They had purchased tickets months ago to go see Beethoven’s Triple Concerto at The Meyerson Symphony Center. She handed the waiter an extra tip and grinned at their surprised face. Sometimes she liked to leave a 100% tip, especially since most of the people at the shop didn’t even make half of what she did in a year. She braved the cold again and lifted her scarf up to her nose, blowing hot air into the fabric. Just as she dipped into the driver’s side, her phone went off. She pulled it from the purse and frowned at the screen. Daddy.
“Hey, I told you I was on lunch, what’s up?” she asked briskly.
“Girl, don’t you take that tone with me. You’re not too old to bend over my knee.” She chuckled and softened her voice.
“Sorry, it’s been a rough day.”
“You take a rest as soon as you drop the contract off at Benson’s place, OK?”
“I will, Daddy. So, what’s going on? Why did you call?” Celeste asked. She took a sip, and sighed at the warm, bittersweet flavor.
“I wanted to talk with you about John.” She tensed, squeezing the phone between her fingers.
“Just, hear me out.” He interrupted.
She sighed and put the cup into the cup holder. “Fine,” she snapped. His words came out annoyingly gentle. “Honey, listen. I know you really like this boy. But there are some things you need to understand.” She rolled her eyes at his tone. “Daddy, I’m twenty-three years old. Come on, didn’t we have this conversation when I was sixteen, and then eighteen?” “Celeste.” his tone quieted her. “Now listen. I’m through playing around. You know as well as I do that I married for love. And I could care less if you found your true love eating at a soup kitchen.” She ground her teeth and glanced out the window. A kid waved as his mom pulled up next to her. She smiled, waving back.
“What I mean to say is,” she cringed, realizing that he was probably running his hands through his hair and pacing. She knew that pause, all too well. “Baby, this boy is different. I don’t know how else to say it to you. He’s going to─” “Hurt me?” She finished. Her voice took on an aloof tone, and she fought to keep control. His voice shot out, “Look, I’m trying to get you to see reason. When you first brought him in, I told you no. I have my reasons, you know that.” He finished. “Yes,” she quipped, “reasons you’ve failed to enlighten me on.” She went rigid, gripping the steering wheel. “Daddy, did you─” she trailed off, not wanting to anger her father further. She swallowed and then continued, “Are you spying on him?” His silence said it all. “You are, aren’t you?” Her voice raised several octaves. He answered softly, “Celeste, listen to me─” She hung up the phone and threw it into her purse. Why was she not surprised? It was just like him. She pulled into traffic and merged onto Highway 75.
* * *
She climbed the stairs to her living room and gazed longingly down the hall. Bed sounds so good right now, she thought as she shuffled across the room. Benson hadn’t been too demanding today at least. Normally she would have to explain to him for hours. Thankfully his lawyer was there today. She changed her mind, and sagged into the couch, flipping on the T.V. Today had really taken a turn for the worse. Why did her father insist on meddling with her love life? John had his faults, like the next guy, but he wasn’t a crazed killer or anything. Celeste picked up her phone. Two missed calls. She sighed, seeing her dad’s number both times. It was only ten, maybe John was still awake. She giggled and pulled herself up from the couch. Rummaging through her closet she found the hat he bought her and put it on. It was a black rabbit hat with long ears. She snapped a picture of herself as she gazed big eyed at the screen, forming a pouty face. She drew little pink hearts on her picture. Miss you, she captioned at the bottom. Perfect. She sent the pic, giddy at awaiting his response.
She set down the phone and crossed into the kitchen. Celeste filled a tea kettle and then turned on the burner. Opening the pantry, she leaned down and scanned all the different tins. Her eye caught chamomile and she grinned as the chime went off on her phone. She hastily dropped the tin on the counter and skipped toward the phone. Curling up on the couch, she gripped the phone and pushed the home key. Celeste frowned at the unfamiliar sender. Sender5hi has sent you a snapPic. That’s strange, how was it that someone that wasn’t even a friend sent her something? She pressed down on the sender’s name, waiting on the picture to appear. The picture was incredibly blurry. She squinted at the photo as the seconds ticked by on the image. It only allowed you to view it for ten seconds. It was really dark. Her face got closer to the screen. It looked like a driveway. The image disappeared and she pursed her lips. What was that? More importantly, whose driveway was it? She rubbed her arms and glanced uneasily at the front door. Had she remembered to lock it? Celeste tip-toed over to the top of the stairs and peeked down at the front door, the breath she had been holding escaped. Thank god.
Still. She walked over to the panel by the stairs and turned on the alarm. Better safe than sorry. Someone hacking her account wasn’t anything new to her. It had happened a few times. She would have to change the account again and give John the new one. Why couldn’t people just leave her alone? It took thousands of dollars, just to hide where she lived. There had been a huge scandal at Daddy’s company a few years ago. Her Father had been tormented by it ever since. It was nothing that he could have controlled. None of them could─ but it hadn’t made him feel any less responsible. She sighed to herself. She really needed to call him back and apologize. After all, he was just thinking of her best interest. She knew that. But she just couldn’t stand the way he treated John. After all, he wasn’t a bad guy. He was just…conservative.
Her mind returned to a few years ago. One of her father’s employees, a man that had just gotten his job, had thrown himself from the roof after being cut from the company. They were going through a rough patch, and had to let some of the new hires go. She knew Daddy was just following normal procedure, and had genuinely felt bad. He had stayed up the entire night, dreading the talk he would have to have with fifty of the employees the next day. Most of them had understood and accepted their severance package.
Not Don. She still could remember his warm eyes, and the fiery red hair that matched his spirit. He had been searching for three months to find work and he had worked so hard. His wife had passed earlier that year, and he had lost his job. Daddy had talked proudly about how promising an employee he had been. Her father had fought hard to keep him on, but upper management wouldn’t agree to take a pay cut to keep him. Even with him offering to cut his own salary. It was just business, they said. It still choked her up. The man had left behind a little girl. Celeste’s father had taken full responsibility for it and took care of the funeral. The child that was left behind had kin in upstate Louisiana, so he flew her there himself and saw to it that the girl had a fund set up. He still called every now and then to check up on her. Madeline, if she remembered correctly. Little Maddie. The press, of course, had had a field day. It had stopped for a while, and she had been hopeful that the public had lost interest. Maybe she was wrong. Two more chimes sounded. Her hands shook visibly as she picked up the phone. Don’t. Ignoring her silent warning, she pressed and held down the first picture. This time, it was between two buildings. It was hard to make out, but then, she saw it. The white camellia’s in her back yard. She snatched the curtains shut and ran into the kitchen, hiding.
She gripped the phone and pressed the next image. Celeste knew she shouldn’t even entertain them. She should just call the cops, but she wasn’t going to let some idiot with a camera phone spook her. It’s just a prank, some college kid getting a thrill, she reassured. The picture came into view, and she gasped. It was a video of her walking across to turn on the alarm. The phone fell from her hand and she gripped her mouth. They were right outside. Celeste bent down and scooped up her phone. She pulled the blinds down and started dialing 9-1-1. Before she could press send, the screen lit up and a message appeared. She clicked on it and sighed. It was John standing outside her front door. He had a pouty face and it was captioned, It’s cold out here. Oh that─ that, asshole. Celeste stormed down the stairs and ripped open the door.
“You better have a damn good reason for─” she was cut off as he swept her up in a hug. His lips hungrily wrapped around hers. John closed the door with his foot, and bent down picking her up. She sighed, her anger fizzling out at the warmth of his touch. He was halfway up the stairs when the alarm sounded. They laughed as her phone went off. She answered, giving them the code that let them know it was a false alarm. I’m sorry, he mouthed. She threw the phone to the ground and wrapped herself around him. Their clothes were peeled from one another, as they walked in tandem down the long hall. Each too lost in the others’ tangle of arms and warmth.