“Being the new kid in any school is difficult. Being the new kid in a school like this is a nightmare.”
Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015
GM: Amelie’s fourth period Inorganic Chemistry class takes place in the typical setting that distinguishes science classrooms from regular ones: posters of the periodic table of the elements, a model human skeleton in the room’s corner, and long tables with thick, stain-resistant black surfaces instead of the normal individual desks. The teacher is a brown-haired woman who looks even younger than Ms. Perry, maybe in her mid 20s, and is saying something about how she had considered pursuing a research career or becoming a professor after earning her doctorate, but felt that McGehee offered “a unique opportunity to introduce a generation of future researchers and professors to science. Alumni of our school are much more likely to-”
The entire class stops to stare as Amelie, tardy, opens the door.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t break her stride as she steps into the room. She doesn’t ignore the stares, but she doesn’t let them phase her either as she sits down in the nearest available seat and pivots her eyes up to the teacher. “Very sorry,” she simply states, hoping the teacher doesn’t ask for an explanation. After all, she’s the school’s new girl.
GM: The young-looking teacher, whose name remains unknown to Amelie after missing the first few minutes of class, spares the tardy student a thin glance that does not look at all sympathetic to someone with ‘new girl’ status. Nevertheless, she continues with her earlier about why she chose to teach at the high school level despite possessing a PhD—in short, because she believed McGehee’s exceptional caliber of students were worth it.
The irony of this sentiment being expressed at the same time as Amelie’s tardiness is not lost on her classmates. None of them actually giggle, but the knowing smiles are impossible to miss.
Amelie: The irony is lost on Amelie, who notices her peers’ glances but dismisses them. To her, PhDs are circumstantial, certainly something one can strive for, but their holders are not by any means infallible. Examples of outdated PhD holders for computer science and political science staying stupid and obviously wrong things about their fields come to mind.
Still, she brings out her laptop if the other students have theirs out and begins to absorb the lesson, straight-backed and looking straight ahead as always.
GM: Like Lawrence Thurston’s finance class, the first day is not very heavy on actual material, and mostly consists of an overview of what the course will be covering. As an AP course, it will count towards college credit, but be that much more work. The nameless teacher hands out syllabi that include her name (Catherine Ward), and states that like a real college course, they will actually be relevant to the class (containing, among other things, due dates for assignments and designated ‘lab days’). An hour later, the bell rings, and the girls rise to head to their next classes.
Amelie: Amelie looks over the coursework and packs it away in her bag. It’s helpful to know what the future holds helps, as does having a paper that explains all the due dates for everything. It’s a delight to know what’s what ahead of time. After packing up, she stands and heads into the hall with her peers. Her classes so far have been packed with facts and memorization, so picked something a bit lighter for her second-to-last period of the day—philosophy of all things.
GM: Amelie’s fifth period philosophy class is with Mrs. Chantilly Laurent. She has a slim figure, pale complexion, and smooth skin that could pass for a well-preserved 30 or even 40, but her lengthy hair is a uniform faded gray, making her exact age difficult to pinpoint. She speaks in a soft, almost droning voice not unlike Mr. Thurston’s, but where his drawling cadence might have lulled Amelie to sleep, Mrs. Laurent’s half-lidded eyes make her seem almost as if she is ready to fall asleep herself. She’s dressed in a white skirtsuit with a blue silk scarf around her neck, and speaks quietly enough that several of Amelie’s neighbors lean forward just to make out what she’s saying.
Amelie: Mrs. Laurent’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for her teaching is a bit of a letdown. But Amelie takes notes on her laptop with light taps, not daring to drown out what little sound she can hear from the woman.
GM: It might be somewhat to Amelie’s relief when Mrs. Laurent finally asks the students to talk instead. The ‘first day ice-breaker’ will be for them to share what college they want to attend, as well as why. “Why is the question we’ll be asking here every day, of course,” the gray-haired teacher murmurs in her same quiet tone. A few students look as if they’re wondering whether Mrs. Laurent made a quip, but it’s hard to tell with how quietly she talks, so they just smile instead. The teacher undeterredly goes on, “No doubt many of you have shared your choices with your peers already… but it’s the why, always the why here.”
All of Amelie’s fellow students are quick to volunteer answers. “Stanford.” “Cornell.” “Northwestern.” “Yale.” “Tulane.” “Berkley.” “UCLA.” “My parents went there. It’s tradition for our family to attend.” “It’s not where you go these days, but with who. It’s a good place to network.” “Their graduate program is one of the best in its field, and I’ll have an easier time getting in if I also attend as an undergrad.” “I have a family friend in admissions, so naturally I want to snag a spot.” “It’s close to home and I want to live near my family.”
Amelie: Amelie’s earlier internal monologue about the usefulness of university seems a bit like this is fate telling her not to underestimate the importance of that little piece of paper one gets after untold years of work and study. Fortunately, she has a dream university in mind already.
Once it’s her turn she answers, “MIT; on top of its second-place history curriculum behind Stanford, it gives me access to tools for learning chemical forensics required for in-depth historical dating, and their engineering programs facilitate my learning better techniques for the restoration and replication of historical metallurgy.”
GM: Mrs. Laurent gives Amelie’s answer the same pleasantly dim smile that she shows the rest of the class, though for once the Canadian transplant’s schoolmates don’t seem to find anything wrong with that same answer. They passively take it in and move on to the next girl. She has to wonder what kind of reception “I’m not going to college” would have gotten.
Amelie: Amelie simply goes about her business of taking notes on her laptop. To her slight surprise, the question does make her wonder again about university. It could be possible to attend that school, maybe by securing a scholarship or finding some way to work until she can sell her skills. But she refocuses quickly in case the quiet teacher starts speaking again.
GM: The introductions take up a fair chunk of the period. There’s a syllabus overview, which Mrs. Laurent gives in the same barely audible volume of voice, and then the bell rings. The girls look a bit more relieved than they did during Amelie’s previous classes.
Sixth period looks as if will be another change of pace for the new senior. The classroom is in another building, necessitating a walk through the school grounds (now even hotter, this late into the day). There are no desks or chairs. It’s not a gym, but a wide and mostly empty space with a floor-to-ceiling mirror over one of the walls. It’s also crowded. There might be half again as many girls as there were in Amelie’s previous classes. The size still falls well short of a public school class, but sixth period would seem to be a popular time for Ballroom Dance.
This late into the day, Amelie can recognize several faces from her prior classes and interactions throughout the school. From the assembly there’s Mackenna and Susannah Kelly, first period’s Sarah Whitney, third period’s Yvette, and the black girl Amelie tried to sit next to during lunch. There’s also a chubby blonde she shared… some other period with, and another girl of Indian descent (South Asian, not Native American), somewhat notable among the mostly white faces, who said she wanted to go to Stanford during their shared fifth period.
No, Amelie deduces after a moment, that girl who looks like Yvette isn’t her. She shares the same pale skin and blue eyes, the almost colorless blonde hair, the slender frame, and even height. But her facial features are just slightly off. Not quite a twin, but an eerily close resemblance for a sibling. Amelie would have sworn they were the same girl at first.
Amelie: Ballroom Dance is a veritable smörgåsbord of faces she’s seen throughout the day. Susannah Kelly and Sarah Whitney are both people she’s interested in speaking with. The Desi woman is a welcome surprise in this white-washed school. Yvette is also—oh. Amelie thanks her stars she didn’t re-introduce herself to the girl who looks like a near-carbon print of her fellow French-speaking classmate. Amelie confusedly looks her over for a moment before turning her eyes forward. Class is still about to start, and she seizes the chance to step forward to Sarah Whitney with a polite smile on her face.
“Excuse me, sorry. You’re Sarah, right? Sarah Whitney?”
GM: Sarah is a short, gentle-featured brunette who Amelie finds engaged in conversation with Susannah, Mackenna, and a fourth black-haired girl who she doesn’t recognize. “Guilty as charged,” Sarah responds with a pretty smile, drawing several light titters from her friends.
Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider at the quip but stays professional. “It’s very nice to meet you. I’m Amelie Savard. Do you mind if I ask you a question or two? I won’t take up much time, I promise. It’s about the LaLaurie House.”
GM: “Well, Amelie, how very nice to meet you too, maybe in just a lil’ bit. Class is about to start…” Sarah remarks, looking towards the front of the room as the teacher calls for everyone’s attention.
Amelie: Amelie gives a bit of a chuckle at the timing. “After class then, if you have the time.” She gives a nod of recognition to the other girls in the group and steps away as class starts.
GM: The instructor who introduces herself as Diana Flores is a 40-something woman who wears her age well, with a toned figure, vibrant complexion, and sandy blonde hair. An easy smile plays over her lips as she addresses the class, some of whom are staring at the music stereo that’s sitting next to her. She’s dressed more flowingly than Amelie’s previous teachers in a peach-colored dress belted at the waist, and pink heels that might not be the most comfortable to dance in for hours, but are likely good practice for actual dancing events.
“Good afternoon, y’all, I’ve got to say, it always leaves me tickled pink to see how many girls sign up for this class,” she beams. “Everyone scoot apart a bit, now,” she says while making an almost shooing motion with her hands, “and make sure you have plenty room to move around, because we’ll be doing a lot of it this next hour!”
Amelie: Mrs. Flores isn’t dressed like any PE teacher Amelie has ever seen. Those heels alone make her wince, though she isn’t a total stranger to them. Many styles of fencing require more boot-ish ones. Polish saber fencing is almost impossible without them, actually.
Still, the teacher’s energy is a welcome change from fifth period, and Amelie steps away from her classmates as instructed. She has a feeling they’re going to be doing stretches. The use of the Southern vernacular ’y’all’ doesn’t escape her notice either. It makes her smile, like when Americans make the ‘eh’ joke after she says where she’s from.
GM: Mrs. Flores doesn’t spend too many minutes making introductions. She tells the class that she used to be a ballet dancer in her youth, has six children (three of whom went to McGehee), and a bad leg from a car accident some years back. If she ever has to pause the class because “the ol’ leg’s acting up again, it’s nothing to fret your hearts over.” Today’s lesson will be “nothing too hard:” the fundamentals of waltz. “Just enough to get y’all warmed up for more!”
“Now, with waltz, there are three cardinal rules to always follow. Rule number one, the man starts with his left foot.” Mrs. Flores indicates her left. “And the lady starts with her right foot.” She turns and lifts her right right. “All right? Now, rule number two. You’ll only be dancing in six directions. Forwards, backwards,” she points her hands, “right, left,” then twirls her hand, “turn right, and turn left. The third and last rule is my personal favorite: the gentleman leads, and the lady follows.” She smiles and holds out both of her hands with the palms up.
“What that means is, men must create a frame,” and here she holds out her arms, “in order to lead the lady proper; and ladies… you must allow your body to bend like a tree in the breeze. Pretend you’re Scarlett from Gone With the Wind—y’all do remember that pose she strikes with her man, now don’t you?” She laughs. “Of course you do!” The comparison draws more than a few smiles and giggles from the class.
“All right, now let’s go over the basics. Gentlemen will be starting with the left foot.” Mrs. Flores indicates her left again. “Now we’ll just squint our eyes, and pretend we’re all gentlemen—” this draws another round of smirks and giggles from the class, “—so that you can go forward with the left foot.” Mrs. Flores takes a step forward, left foot first. “Stepping with the heel, like we walk naturally every day of our lives.” She then spreads her legs. “Then sidestep, which step to the right while keeping your left where it is—and close.” She closes her legs, now having moved a step to the left.
“Then you will proceed by moving backwards with your right foot, releasing the toe.” She keeps her heel to the ground but her foot at a tilted angle that keeps the toe of her shoe in the air. “Then you step to the side.” She spreads her legs again. “And close again.” She does so, moving right. “Got that? Okay, now y’all can try it for yourselves, but still with me…”
“Everyone, forward with your left.” All of the class steps forward with their left foot. “Side to the right.” Mrs. Flores spreads her legs again, now accompanied by the rest of the class. “Close.” All of the class closes them. “Back with the right.” Mrs. Flores and everyone else backs up, touching the ground with their heels before their toes. “Side to the left.” They spread their legs again. “And close. There we go, good job!” Admittedly, even a clutz would be hard-pressed to get the simple motions wrong.
“Now, again… forward with the left, side with the right, close, and back with the right, and side, and close.” Mrs. Flores goes through all the motions with the class again, but now with only a slight pause instead of full stops between them. It’s not quite a dance yet, but seems closer.
“Let’s do it again now. Forward to the right—and side with the right—and close—and back with the right—and side—and close.” They go through it all again.
“Okay, I think y’all have it down. But try not to have it too down, we don’t want you to learn to dance like men after all!” she laughs. “Now, for the ladies… it’s much the same thing, just the reverse. Y’all can just watch again for this part.” Mrs. Flores turns around, facing her back to the class, though her front is still visible in the floor-to-ceiling wall mirror.
“Ladies start with their right foot, and go backwards, releasing the toe.” She steps back, heel first, then toe. “And then to the side with the left…” She spreads her legs. “…and close with the right.” She closes them. “Then forward with the left.” She steps forward. “Side to the right.” She sidesteps. “And closing… okay, let’s try it yourselves.”
“Back with the right, side with the left, close, forward with left, side with the right, and close.” The class goes through all of the female versions of the motions with their teacher. “So again,” Mrs. Flores starts up with everyone, “back with the right, to the left, close, forward left, to the right, and close. Very good! Now we’re going to try with a partner… do I have any volunteers for our next demonstration?”
The teacher gets a number of volunteers, including Amelie. The new student finds herself overlooked, however, as Mrs. Flores calls on Susannah Kelly. “All right, we’re now going to squint and pretend I’m a man again,” she smiles at Susannah to a few more giggles from the class. “So first I will extend my left hand towards the woman.” She does so. “She will then raise her right hand, stepping forward, and place it within my hand.” She holds her hand out. “From there it’s the man’s job to pull her into his right side.” She gently takes Susannah’s hand, steps a foot closer, then raises the senior’s hand, “so that she is properly close to dance. Now let’s go over the five connections we’re seeing here.”
“Connection number one,” she motions with her head, “it’s the man’s left arm with the lady’s right arm. Connection number two. The man’s right hand touches the lady’s left shoulder blade.” Susannah turns slightly, though it’s already visible in the mirror.
“Connection three. Lady’s left tricep to man’s right forward.” She nods again to the parts of their arms that are touching. “Connection four. Lady’s left arm to man’s right bicep.” She indicates Susannah’s hand, placed over her shoulder.
“Connection number five is for more advanced dancers. Susannah, do you mind-?” “Oh of course not, ma’am.” “-where the man’s right side of his hip is connected to the lady’s right side.” Mrs. Flores touches her hip against Susannah’s, which has the effect of giving the latter a very romantic-looking swoon backwards. It’s the same pose seen in a lot of old movies.
“And now for the example of the basic step, with the partner.” Mrs. Flores lifts Susannah back up again and takes her arm. “Now I go forward with my left, side right, and close.” She draws to a stop with the senior. “Back with my right, side left, and close. Now the slight rotation as I do these things, so that it feels more like we’re turning in a circle. Ladies, remember that you are going back with the right, side with the left, close, forward left, side right, and close.” The pair go through all the motions again, but faster, now like in a real dance. Mrs. Flores even executes a twirl at the end, lifting her arm arm high and spinning Susannah around underneath it. The class laughs and claps, prompting both dancers to execute a smiling bow at the end.
“Very good, Susannah! We can tell she’s had a lot of practice at this already,” Mrs. Flores praises.
“Oh, you’re much too kind, ma’am.”
“I call it as I see it.” She turns to address the class. “Now that all y’all have seen us go at it, it’s your turn! Everyone take a moment to find partners now. Let’s not take too long.” The teacher lightly claps her hands twice.
Amelie: Amelie watches intently as the lesson goes on and recognizes quite a few points from her days in the fair. Though a fair waltz was a lot sloppier and a lot faster, more for making merry than dancing with a straight back. Still, she tackles the lesson like she tackles every other lesson, wishing she could take notes but settling for her own concentration. Susannah Kelly however catches her eye. This girl seems like the queen of the school, but the origin of her status bears looking into. After more pressing matters.
Once the lesson is done, the young woman once again finds herself at a loss for a moment. Being the new kid in any school is difficult. Being the new kid in a school like this is a nightmare. Still, Amelie brazenly walks back up to Sarah, a calm smile on her features.
“Do you have a partner? If we talk and waltz, hopefully I can save you the time of bothering you after class. If you don’t mind, of course.”
GM: Sarah responds with a humoring smile. In her present clique with Mackenna, the black-haired girl, and not least of all Susannah, she looks as if she could easily have at least two partners.
“Well, I do suppose that kills two birds with one stone,” she laughs instead. “Susannah, if you don’t mind postponing our dance?”
“Oh no, Sarah, you go on, I don’t think I’m ready to play the man just yet,” the taller girl smiles back. It’s not long before she partners up with the South Asian girl.
Amelie: Amelie gives Sarah a bit of an apologetic smile as she assents to the dance, but feels some tension drop off her shoulders. Being the new girl and having short hair make her popularity stock poison, it seems, but she needs this chance. She takes a moment to thank Susannah before she and her partner step away.
GM: “All right, everyone partnered up? Good,” Mrs. Flores calls as the class settles. “We’ll have you change up a few times over the next hour. Make sure everyone gets at least one turn playing the lady, now, you don’t want to learn to dance like men!” she repeats. “Now, everyone link hands with your partner. The man extends their left… lady raises right… man pulls her to his right side…”
Sarah smiles at Amelie but does not extend a hand, seemingly expecting her to play the male role.
Amelie: Amelie cannot complain about the roles. She extends her left hand without a drop of shame, just as the teacher demonstrated, ready for four of the five connections right away. She stops at four to briefly consult Sarah if she’s comfortable with the fifth, but pulls her in confidently if she affirms so.
GM: The girls all partner up and take one another’s hands, though some of them take a few extra moments to decide who should play male and female roles. A few giggles go up about “lesbians!” Mrs. Flores only smiles indulgently at this and states, “Unless you girls know any eligible gentlemen on campus-”
“-Mr. Hargrove!” calls out one girl, to another round of giggles.
“-that’s eligible gentlemen, Ms. Bowers, last I checked he had a class to teach,” Mrs. Flores shoots back without breaking stride. “So unless you ladies know any teenage gentlemen allowed on campus, we work with the tools we’ve been given.” She then stoops down to turn on the stereo.
“Now let’s try this with some music. This is The Blue Danube Waltz, I’m sure you’ve all heard it someplace before. Simple music for a simple first dance…”
GM: Mrs. Flores leads the class through all the preliminary motions with a partner and the same ‘five connections’ as before. Several girls still seem to find it amusing for them to be dancing together, but their giggles are drowned out by the music. Sarah consents to let Amelie pull off the fifth connection, which most if not all of the class seems to be aiming for too, despite the earlier “lesbians!” talk.
Amelie: Amelie isn’t a slouch when it comes to the dance, leading Sarah with a confidence and a focused face, counting the steps in the back of her head. It’s simple enough, dancing isn’t too far removed from fencing steps after all. It even makes her right arm ache lightly as they move.
“I’ll get right to the point, Sarah. Me and Yvette Devillers were assigned a research project today in AP New Orleans History. The decided topic was the ghosts of New Orleans,” she states, leading the dance with her left just as instructed. “We decided to do the LaLaurie House. And if my research was right, Whitney National Bank owns the property at the moment. We were hoping to spend a night inside for the project. Hopefully film it for a laugh or two.”
GM: “Oh, the LaLaurie House? Yes, I’d heard that the bank repossessed it. I suppose no one’s ever owned it for long, have they…”
Amelie leads her partner through a serviceable dance. A waltz isn’t too hard, nor the specific motions Mrs. Flores has them doing. It’s just leading one’s partner across the room.
“That’s a big favor to ask now, admittedly,” Sarah says in between a step. “The bank doesn’t normally let people sleep in houses that aren’t theirs, I’m sure you know, and I’m afraid I don’t actually work for the bank…”
“But the Devillers are a good family, if Yvette’s your partner, I suppose I can at least see what my granddaddy thinks.”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t let the music get in the way of their conversation, keeping the pace and keeping in line with the steps as they talk. “That would be above and beyond, thank you! Of course, if you don’t want to ask your grandfather all on your own, I could come along to explain my intent.”
GM: “You know, that really might help if Yvette or her mother did, now that you mention it—our families do know one another.”
Amelie: “That’s excellent. I can’t help but be envious of all the families with history here. I realize being without that, and being so new, associating with me at the moment is a net hit to your social stock. So thank you again for speaking with me.”
GM: Sarah laughs. “Don’t be silly, there is such a thing as Southern hospitality too, you know. The Devillers have only been in the city for ten years. Make nice with a few more folks and I bet you’ll be as popular as Yvette and her family in no time.”
Amelie: Amelie manages a chuckle at the girl’s statement but puts the information into her back pocket. “I’m happy to hear you say that! You never know how different a new country will be, especially its people. If we somehow get permission, would you like to join us? It promises to be a… unique experience.”
GM: “Oh, I’ll just have to think on that,” Sarah laughs again. “If it’s not really haunted, it might be a letdown. And if it is… I reckon I’d be prayin’ that it wasn’t, now wouldn’t I?”
Amelie: Amelie laughs in kind. “Quite a predicament! Though if it isn’t haunted, we’re one of the few people to see the inside in decades. If it is, well, we could always invite a priest along now couldn’t we? Or maybe since the ghosts are purported to be black slaves, a Vodoun priest.”
GM: “That sure would be an adventure,” Sarah smiles. Meanwhile, after several dance rotations, Mrs. Flores shuts the music off and tells the class to “switch on up” and find new dance partners. Sarah gives a vaguely amused-seeming curtsy and takes her leave.
Amelie: Amelie takes one in kind and lets a deep breath out, glad that it’s over. Yvette’s name is the only thing that got her through those gates. She makes a note in the back of her head to ask about it later. She then decides to leave Sarah’s circle of friends alone and goes looking for the girl who looks eerily like her partner in New Orleans ghost history.
GM: Amelie finds Yvette’s seeming half-twin in short enough order, and has similarly little time to make her appeal before the next dance starts. “Ah am sorry, ’ave we met…?” her classmate initially remarks.
Amelie: Amelie gives an almost apologetic smile and shakes her head lightly. “Non, nous n’avons pas. Je suis Amélie Savard. Vous ne seriez pas un Devillers, n’est-ce pas?”
(“No, we haven’t. I am Amelie Savard. You wouldn’t happen to be a Devillers, would you?”)
GM: “Oui, c’est le nom de ma famille,” Yvette’s half-twin replies. (“Yes, that is my family’s name.”)
“Je suis Yvonne.” (“I am Yvonne.”)
Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider when her use of French doesn’t trip up Yvonne as much as it did Yvette. "J’ai l’histoire de la Nouvelle-Orléans avec Yvette. Aimeriez-vous être mon partenaire de danse ce tour? "
(“I have New Orleans History with Yvette. Would you like to be my dance partner this round?”)
GM: Much like the last Devillers before her, Yvonne glances around and finds the other dance partners close to already decided. “D’accord, Yvette est ma sœur, je vais devoir lui parler de ta classe ensemble, elle a trouvé la description du cours très intéressante.”
(“All right. Yvette is my sister, I’ll have to ask her about your class together. She thought the course description sounded very interesting.”)
Yvonne seems to wait for Amelie to extend her hand as the other ‘men’ among the couples are expected to.
Amelie: Amelie does so. Feeling the way the women of the group move is enough practice for that part, as it seems the easier role of the two. She extends her left hand to bring Yvonne into the dance. “En effet, ça l’est. Nous travaillons déjà ensemble sur un projet impliquant les hantises de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Et toi? Pas une personne d’histoire?”
(“Indeed it is. We are already working together on a project involving the hauntings of New Orleans. And yourself? Not a history person?”)
GM: Yvette’s sister shakes her head as she joins hands with Amelie and places her other on her partner’s shoulder. “Oh non, l’histoire est très importante pour notre mère. Mon horaire de cours était tout complet. Je prévois de prendre le prochain semestre.”
(“Oh no, history is very important to our mother. My class schedule was full. I plan to take it next semester.”)
Amelie: Amelie nods understandably at the notion of her full schedule, but she worries about the mother part of Yvonne’s statement just slightly. What is it Yvonne wanted to study? But she doesn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, I should have asked if you preferred English or French in school. I got the impression from Yvette that you speak it quite heavily at home.”
GM: “Oh yes, we mostly speak French there,” Yvonne answers as the two take a forward left step. Mrs. Flores has since started the music back up. “It keeps our culture alive. But we speak English outside our ‘ome. Ah suppose that makes us bilingual. Ah don’t mind speaking either.”
Amelie: Amelie keeps on with the dance, following each step and leading Yvonne around to the music. It’s starting to become a bit more of a rote action. “That’s an admirable goal for a family to have. You’re all Metropolitan French, correct? European French?”
GM: Yvonne gives a nod in tune with the last step. Simple repetition is likely making it sink in even among those classmates with no dancing experience. “Yes, we’re all from Europe. Your accent sounded… different.”
Amelie: It’s almost comforting when Amelie gets into the groove. She enjoys having the lead after she finally admits to herself she’s enjoying the dance in general. “Quebecois. Apologies, it might sound a bit more sloppy than metropolitan, but old habits die hard and dialects harder.”
GM: “…left, close, forward left, side right, and close. Now again, everyone—right, side with left, close…” Mrs. Flores calls from the front.
“Yes, Ah suppose they do,” Yvonne remarks as she closes her legs. “But Ah suppose that’s what starts new dialects too, when they don’t die easily.”
Amelie: Amelie keeps up in step and stride, keeping the pace the teacher sets out as they speak. At this point she’s just passing time and trying to make friends. “True! Though it gives birth to a lot of misunderstandings. But tell me, I’m new to New Orleans. Anywhere I have to see?”
GM: “Well, there’s of course the Vieux Carré. All the restaurants, clubs, and other places worth going are there,” Yvonne recommends. “All right shopping too. Mah sister Cécilia says there’s no need to ever leave. The CBD ‘as those things too, but it’s very… American.” She wrinkles her nose a bit but continues, “Ah like Antoine’s most, so far as places to eat. Ah think one of the girls ‘ere belongs to the family that runs it. Antoine’s, that is. Ah think it’s been in business for over two ‘undred years. It feels like a place from back ’ome. Café du Monde isn’t bad either, but gets a lot of tourists.”
Amelie: Amelie listens in rapt attention. This class is proving to be quite a social boon for her. Yvonne’s mention of the CBD being so American makes her chuckle, though. “And here I thought I’d seen the last of that phrase, living in America. Tell me, where exactly did you leave from when you moved to New Orleans?”
GM: “Charles de Gaulle Airport,” Yvonne answers wryly.
No sooner does she do so, however, than the music from the front of the classroom shuts off.
“Okay, everyone, let’s change up partners again!” Mrs. Flores calls.
Amelie: Amelie just gives the girl a grin and a respectful nod, wishing her a good day as they separate. She moves right on to the person that she next wants to speak with. Queen bee herself, Susannah. She’s got a bit of confidence behind her now, and doesn’t hesitate as she strides up to the popular girl.
“Susannah? Sorry to but in, I was the girl who approached Sarah earlier. Do you mind if we pair next? I have a feeling you’re very much someone to get to know a little.”
GM: The popular blonde spares Amelie a winsome smile. “Oh, that’s awful flattering, so I’m very sorry… I’m afraid I promised Sarah here a dance. You can’t trust a president who doesn’t keep her promises, now can you?”
The shorter brunette watches the exchange with a pleasant expression.
Amelie: Amelie takes it in stride. “Only fair, considering I stole a dance already. You both have fun.” She takes her leave and quickly scans the room. Susannah is last person she finds herself caring about dancing with.
GM: Amelie goes through a few more dances with a few more partners, all of whom expect her to play the man. When the bell finally rings, heralding the end of the school day, Mrs. Flores motions for her to remain behind as the other animatedly chattering girls make their ways off to their cars.
Amelie: Amelie stays behind when the teacher calls, wondering if something is the matter.
GM: If there is, it’s not immediately obvious. Mrs. Flores laughs goodnaturedly and says she wants to “go over a few steps” with Amelie, then turns the music back on. She is also the first person Amelie has danced with who takes her hand and plays the man, having the young woman follow rather than lead.
Amelie: Amelie lets out the tiniest of sighs. Of course the teacher notices a student only ever dancing as the lead, or ‘male’ role. Despite that, she hasn’t just been chatting her day away, and knows how to play the woman during a waltz too.
GM: “Okay, I think you’ve got it down,” the teacher smiles after several dances, then turns the music back off. “Next class, see if you can play the lady a few more times, all right?”
Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Being led around just clashes with me, I think, but I’ll try my best.”
GM: “Thank you, Amelie,” Mrs. Flores smiles again. “And who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy the change of pace. Boys at the school dances usually like to lead.”
Amelie: “The school allows boys on campus for school dances?”
GM: “Oh yes, we partner with a neighboring boys’ school for those. Though we’ve had some pretty fierce debates over coed proms since poor Miss Whitney.”
Amelie: Amelie has an alarm go off in her head at the teacher’s words, pointing to Sarah’s face mentally. “Why would there be a controversy? What happened?”
GM: “Oh, you’re not familiar? Rebecca Whitney, rest her soul, was killed by a drunk driver some ten years back, during prom. A coed prom—the driver was a boy.” Mrs. Flores shakes her head sadly. “It was such a tragedy. She was her year’s brightest star.”
Amelie: Amelie goes a bit quiet. That isn’t what her thinking had pointed to: she’d pictured the headlines of a sexual assault on their very own Sarah Whitney instead.
GM: The teacher tilts her head at Amelie. “You’re definitely not from around here if that story’s news. Lord knows all the students know. People try not to talk about it too much, but I suppose gossip always spreads.”
Amelie: “I’m indeed not. I’m not even from this country. But that’s awful. I’m sure Sarah is sick of condolences, but my heart goes out to her.”
GM: Mrs. Flores’ face grows more somber at the young woman’s words. “Yes, you’re definitely right about that—I’d ask you not bring it up around our class’s Whitney. It’s an old wound. That family went through so much pain.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’ll be sure not to, it’s none of my business anyway. Anyway, I’ll let you go, ma’am. Thank you for looking out for me. I hope it wasn’t hard on your leg.”
GM: “Oh, there was one other thing, a note came for you to pay the counseling office a visit after school. Take care of that and you’ll be free as a bird.” The teacher smiles. “And the ol’ leg’s doing all right today, thank you for asking.”
Amelie: Amelie gives a slight frown at the surprise news about the counseling office. Last time she was in counseling she tore the leg off a chair and brought it over the skull of a 16-year-old meth addict. Colorful. “Thank you, ma’am. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
GM: Mrs. Flores bids Amelie a warm goodbye and sits down on the instructor’s stool to check her phone. Amelie doesn’t miss the way she starts massaging her calf, though the young woman may miss her bus home. It’s already ten minutes after the bell.
Amelie: Amelie lives close enough she’s not worried about the bus too much, and walks back to the teacher. “Mrs. Flores, would you like me to get you a ice pack from the nurse’s office? Or do you have any medication in your purse? I’m no stranger to how you hold yourself when you’re in pain.”
GM: Mrs. Flores purses her lips initially, but finally sighs, “Oh, I suppose it’s just the first day wearing on me, it’s been a little while since I’ve been on my feet for this long. But if Mrs. Landruff has a spare pack lying around, I’d be obliged to you both.”
Amelie: “Obliged nothing. You were only on your feet so long because of me. Don’t move, I’ll be back.” Amelie gives the teacher a light smile as she trots out the door at a brisk pace towards the nurse’s office.
GM: Amelie remembers from her weekend tour that the counseling and nurse’s offices are located in Bradish Johnson House, the former home of a sugar cane magnate. It also contains the school libraries, the offices of the three school principals and the overall headmistress, and a few classrooms.
Amelie: Amelie once again marvels at the way people can build when they aren’t trying to toss up structures to avoid the cold of winter. She smooths her hands on the columns as she strides into the administration building. Greek Revival just makes the young woman’s bones feel good, like someone put their heart and soul into what they do and it came out. Still, she makes her way to the nurse’s office at a brisk pace.
GM: The interior feels more like a house than an office. Floors are hardwood and flower-filled vases and framed pictures line the walls. There’s even a few small children in the same McGehee uniform as Amelie excitedly running up a flight of stairs—though their parents are equally quick to catch and admonish the unruly grade schoolers. Indeed, while the three lower, middle, and upper McGehee classes were fairly segregated during Amelie’s school day (except for the assembly and brief intervals between periods), the central office building currently plays host to girls of all ages, from teenagers a few years younger than Amelie to elementary students still holding their parents’ hands.
She makes her way to the reception area on the first floor. The wide desk with three receptionists behind it feels like someone almost rudely dragged it inside a well-furnished living room. Pulled-back drapes and potted leafy plants frame the windows, and the scattered overstuffed waiting chairs invitingly beckon for her to sit down. The wallpaper is a pleasant rose-print and an unlit chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A portrait of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s first and only president, hangs from behind a seated tweenage girl playing on her phone.
Besides the receptionists’ desk, the only thing stopping the area from feeling like a homey living room are the ringing phones and small line of chattering staff, parents, and students. Amelie’s question is eventually answered by one of the secretaries seated behind the desk, a one Mrs. Nancy Noah (her name is likely easy for children to remember), a plump and middle-aged black woman wearing a navy cardigan and silver crucifix around her neck. She quickly confirms that the school nurse has not left campus. “The good lord knows her job ain’t over yet, with all the after-school sports here.”
Mrs. Noah provides directions to the school nurse’s office in the back wing of the nearby Lower School Annex building, where Amelie finds the aforenamed Mrs. Landruff. She’s a middle-aged woman with glasses, brownish-blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a short white coat with a doctor’s stethoscope. She is already providing ice pack aid to the bloody nose of a crying elementary-age student.
“Now Laura, honey, you just keep your head tilted back and hold that pack in place, a bloody nose always looks worse than it is. If you can be brave for me and stay quiet, I can even send you off with a lollipop.”
The girl, who looks about eight, has her own red hair pulled back into a ponytail with a yellow scrunchie. She wears the same black, white, and green uniform as Amelie, and is sobbing hopelessly. “I m-m-missed the bu-us…”
“Don’t you worry, sweet pea, we’ll call your mommy and daddy and see if they can come pick you up. You can have fun in the playroom until they do, okay?”
The girl manages a nod as the nurse finally looks away towards Amelie. “Yes, can I help you?”
Amelie: Amelie thanks the receptionist once she gets her information and quickly makes her way into the office, just in time to see a crying kid with a messed-up face. Poor girl.
Amelie stands there quietly, waits for the nurse to finish up, and gives a respectful nod once she’s addressed. “I need an icepack for Mrs. Flores, please, and anything else you’d suggest for her sore leg would be appreciated.”
GM: “Oh, it must be bothering her pretty bad if she’s sending you,” Mrs. Landruff frowns as she hands Amelie an ice pack, then two ibuprofen tablets she seals in a plastic bag. “Now I’m not supposed to hand out medication to students, but this is nothing you couldn’t get over the counter. Take it right back to Mrs. Flores, all right?”
Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” Amelie turns on her heel and rushes back to the building with her Ballroom Dance class, hoping her teacher listened to her and stayed put on her stool. The walk through campus is nice, but the young woman’s laser focus keeps her from enjoying it. She has counseling after this, and Mrs. Flores is in enough pain thanks to her refusal to take a non-leading role in dances.
GM: Amelie finds Mrs. Flores seated and scrolling through her phone. “You’re just faster than green grass through a goose, aren’t you?” the dance teacher laughs as she accepts the compress, breaks it out of its package, and applies it over her leg. She drops the ibuprofen into her purse. “But thank you, Amelie. I don’t usually like to ask students to wait on me, but Lord knows it is easier.”
Amelie: Amelie hands everything over and nods. She doesn’t waste any time when people need her, at least. Now that Mrs. Flores is iced and medicated, it’s a small weight off the teen’s shoulders. “If you need a partner for physiotherapy stretches or for me to fetch anything from your car, you let me know, okay? You don’t need to hesitate asking your students for a bit of help.”
GM: “I’ve kept you long enough as it is, now, I’m sure you have extracurriculars to go to before whatever the counseling office wants. At least you’ll avoid the post-school traffic on your drive home.” She laughs again. “Such as we even have it in this corner of town.”
Amelie: “I haven’t actually chosen any extracurriculars yet. I don’t know if I’ll pick an in-school one,” she explains, but wishes the teacher a good day as she leaves. She doesn’t bother explaining that she doesn’t have a car or anything.
GM: “Oh, you should do that right away—most of them meet for the first time this week, and you don’t want to fall behind. Don’t succumb to senioritis!” Mrs. Flores’ voice is half-teasing as she waves goodbye to Amelie and turns back to her phone.
Amelie: Amelie gives a mental shrug. The counselor might have something to say about that anyway.
Finding the counseling office is easier now that she’s been to the building once, and it gives her a bit more time to worry over what they want from her. Once she’s back, she walks up to the black woman behind the desk, and clears her throat once it’s her turn in the busy lineup of people bothering her. The phones and chatting staff don’t help any.
“Sorry to bother you again, ma’am. Amelie Savard, I was asked to come see the school counselor?”
GM: Back at the Bradish Johnson House, Amelie finds that some of the faces apart from the secretaries have shifted, but everything is otherwise much as it was. Mrs. Noah waves off that she’s being any other directs Amelie to the office of one of the guidance counselors, which is another brief walk away.
Amelie: Amelie thanks the secretary again, walks down the corridor, and knocks on the door.
GM: Amelie gets a prompt, “Come in, please,” and opens the door to see a thirty-something Asian-American woman sitting behind a desk and computer. She’s dressed in a pastel blouse and yellow scarf, smiles when she sees Amelie, and motions for the young woman to pull up a chair.
Her office is decorated in bright colors with assorted mounted plaques, pictures of students, and motivational posters, one of which is an internet Dos Equis meme.
“Amelie, hi, so glad you could come by. You can call me Ms. Nguyen,” the woman greets. As if reading into Amelie’s expression, she then adds, “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble over anything—I understand you’re new at McGehee and weren’t able to come in before last weekend, so there’s a few things that might’ve slipped through the cracks.”
Amelie: The guidance counselor’s office is almost painfully brightly colored. There’s something patronizing about how bright and cheery it is, Amelie she sits down across from the woman and nods at her words.
“I’ve only been in New Orleans for a few days, I was still in Toronto last weekend,” she elaborates as she folds her hands in her lap.
GM: “Oh really, you’re from Canada? I’m sure this must be quite a culture shock for you—or maybe not, your name sounds French-Canadian?” Ms. Nguyen asks.
Amelie: “Quebec City born and bred. Vive le Québec and all that, yes.” She gets that out of the way, then asks, “Is this a career counseling visit? A mental health counseling visit? I have to admit, I’m not used to school counselors calling on me.”
GM: Ms. Nguyen smiles again and shakes her head. “Oh no, you’re not here for any mental health counseling. I don’t know how things were at your old school, Amelie, but we care about every student’s success here at McGehee. So I’d mainly like to touch base with you about what your academic goals are while you’re with us, what sorts of plans you might have made towards college, and how we can help you get there.”
Amelie: “Ah, I see. Well, Ms. Nguyen, to be completely honest with you I don’t plan to attend a university right out of school here. It’s not realistic for me. Have you spoken with my aunt about my situation?”
GM: “We talk pretty often with parents here,” the counselor nods, “and we talked with your aunt more than most, since you weren’t yet in the States. But you’re a little older than our normal students and there’s no one who can be a better advocate for your goals and needs than you. Are you planning to enter vocational training, the military, or some other career directly?”
Amelie: “To speak plainly, I’m not comfortable with debts. I plan to start a business to repay my tuition to my aunt, and then put myself through university on my own merits. If it eases your alarm, my plans do point at MIT when my business gets off the ground. They have an exemplary history course, and their engineering courses are of course world renowned. Even if most outside STEM students would call MIT a glorified vocational school.”
GM: “Yes, student debt is a very big concern for your generation these days,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “But if money is what’s standing in the way of your dreams right now—whether that’s college, a business, or a glorified vocational school,” the counselor says with a smile, “you’ve got a number of options, including scholarships and programs here at McGehee.”
“In fact, we have quite a few of those. That’s one of the reasons many parents enroll their daughters with us—they’re a lot more likely to get noticed and qualify for good scholarships if they attend a highly-rated school, and our tuition is still cheaper than most universities’.”
"Th"The truth is, most families who send their girls here aren’t descended from Antebellum aristocracy. Quite a few are well-off but not truly wealthy, or even middle-class, and just don’t want to subject their daughters to the public school system. Some use financial aid to afford tuition. So it’s a very quiet topic, and no girl here will ever admit it—but you’re far from the only student for whom money is a legitimate concern."
Amelie: Amelie nods and leans back a bit in her chair. “My aunt is wealthy for sure, but she shouldn’t be subjected to paying for her niece’s life. I’m sure I could get scholarships, but I’m sure that would limit me more than simply earning my way. I have a trade already, and New Orleans is a perfect place to ply it in the United States. In fact, I’m already in the planning stages of my business. I might have to be 21 before I can crack a bottle of wine to celebrate opening it, but I can still open it.”
GM: “Oh that’s excellent, it sounds like you’ve already got a path forward for yourself figured out. Who’s providing the start-up capital, your aunt?”
Amelie: “I plan to find outside investors. I have a current project in the works that will hopefully drum up some interest. The identification of an aristocratic historical piece brought from France to New Orleans. I find the family who it belongs to with a paper trail to when it was created. Offer to also restore it for a price, and then sell it back to them to cover my expenses.”
GM: “That sounds fascinating,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “I’m a transplant to New Orleans, myself, but it’s impossible not to appreciate how much history the city has. If you’re looking for investors and plan to operate your business here in New Orleans, anyways, you might just be in luck—McGehee is affiliated with an outside program that backs local entrepreneurs who’ve recently finished their educations, among other things.”
Amelie: “Is that so? Can I ask where you were transplanted from?” Amelie starts to relax, if just a little bit, and nods at the offer. “Who runs this entrepreneur program?”
GM: “I’m originally from San Diego. You definitely won’t find as much history there,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “I’ve actually had a bunch of people think I’m a local! Apparently there’s a big Vietnamese population east of the city.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods at the assumption that she’s local. She admits that she just assumes most people are from the town that she meets them in, including Ms. Nguyen.
GM: “Anyways,” she continues, “it’s the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation. It primarily funds college students through ISAs—incoming sharing agreements, but it has a program for qualifying high school graduates to use the funds for other things like vocational or technical school, or even entrepreneurial projects. Since it’s an ISA, the best part is that the student isn’t fully on the hook to pay them back.”
“If you’re not familiar with how those work, an ISA is an arrangement where an investor pays for a college student’s tuition and potentially related expenses like food and housing. In return, the students repay the investor with a percentage of their post-graduation salaries, usually for no more than 10 years. If the student doesn’t make any money, the investors lose out, but the student is off the hook. If the student succeeds, the investors profit too.”
“The foundation was set up by the Whitney family, if the name wasn’t a giveaway. I think these days it operates closer to the bank and its investors than the original family members, though I could be wrong.”
Amelie: Amelie looks rather amused for a moment before chuckling, “I can’t seem to get away from the Whitney family today. First the presentation talking about her, then it turns out somewhere I’d like to go for a history project is owned by the Whitney bank, I even spoke with Sarah Whitney last period, and now this,” she explains, crossing her legs.
“However, if I do manage to snag it, hopefully it’ll be enough for a place of work. Metallurgy equipment is surprisingly cheap, due to the fact a lot of tools I can just make once I have the basics, but we’ll have to see! Is there an information booklet on this ISA?”
GM: “Oh really? I guess that isn’t too big a surprise, the Whitney Bank is our largest regional bank. And let’s see, booklets…” Ms. Nguyen types something into her computer.
Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers fucking Desjardins, the worst bank you could possibly go to, but one that was still everywhere in Quebec, much to her dismay.
GM: “Okay, they have a website, here’s the address.” The counselor briefly asks Amelie for an email address, or just lets her copy the url directly off the computer screen. “I can also call them to set up a meeting with a foundation member, if you’d like. Maybe they’ll even have a pamphlet I can pass on.”
Amelie: Amelie saves the url to her bookmarks so she can look it up later. “I think I’m going to hold off on that until I have something to show them. My project will hopefully turn a profit, or at the very least break even and spread my name around collectors in New Orleans a little. Have a success story to get them interested.”
GM: “Sounds like a promising way to start things,” the guidance counselor nods. “I know that they require students applying for ISAs to give a presentation, and having a couple good references already could only help you.”
Amelie: “It only seems fair, I mean If I can’t prove that I can do something, how am I going to be given money to do something?”
GM: “I might also recommend that you talk your plans over with your aunt. Last we chatted, she admitted she didn’t have much idea what your intended path in life was, beyond that she was going to require you to finish high school. I’m sure she’ll have plenty more things to say about the business you want to start up.”
Amelie: “Me and her have already spoken about this, actually. I made it clear to her as well that I like to see debts repaid.”
GM: “That’s a healthy attitude in life,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “Another thing I wanted us to talk about was extracurriculars—at McGehee, we encourage all students to develop their interests and pursue achievements outside of the classroom, both to improve their college applications and for simple personal enrichment. Are you signed up for any after-school activities yet?”
Amelie: “I am not. But I’m looking at an out of school curricular in Systemé d’Armes, the local HEMA group in New Orleans. From what I’ve read it’s run by some class A historians.”
GM: “Sounds promising. Now admittedly, with you not attending college, there’s not as much need for you to have a long list of extracurriculars on an application. But they can still look good on a work resume, help you meet potential references, or simply provide personal enrichment. If you’re ever curious what else McGehee has to offer, we have a handy list right here,” the counselor says before passing Amelie a small paper booklet.
She abruptly frowns. “Oh, I’m sorry, this is one of the bad copies. Let me get you a current one.” She withdraws the proffered booklet, rummages around in her desk for a moment, and then hands Amelie another, identical-looking one.
Amelie: Amelie moves to look through the pamphlet, and is about to ask about any engineering classes or extracurriculars after seeing a picture of girls building a catapult on the school website. But the sudden change between booklets makes her a bit wary. They both look the same. She glances up at the woman and gives a small smile. “May I see the other one again, however? It’s good to gauge interest in certain activities by seeing what is cut out.”
GM: “Oh, you’d be wasting your time, it’s exactly the same except for one entry,” Ms. Nguyen answers. “Some students wanted to form a club the administration decided not to allow. One of them worked as a TA and had access to the copy center, so she made copies which included the unrecognized club, and those all got passed out across the school. Principal Strong was not happy. Looks like I forgot about my copy, though.” The counselor drops it in the trash bin.
Amelie: Amelie looks a little concerned as to what this club is as her eyes linger on the trash bin. “If you don’t mind me asking, what was the cut club? I can’t imagine there being any dissent at this school so far, was it something especially toxic?”
GM: “It was the Queer Student Alliance, or whatever the girls were calling it. And no, we found the responsible girl’s behavior much worse than the club itself was. McGehee believes a student’s sexual identity is their own business. We also believe students should express themselves through their interests and vocations, rather than personal labels. We try to focus on the things every student can try out or have in common.”
Amelie: Amelie deflates a little. She thought it was something saucy or dangerous, and actually chuckles a bit at the sudden lift in tensions. “It was a gay/straight alliance? You had me thinking it was a ‘burn books’ club or something catty. Is the student who started it still with the school?”
GM: The guidance counselor nods. “She was suspended, but yes, she’s still with us. We wouldn’t expel a student just for something like that.”
Amelie: “You probably can’t tell me her name, can you? You’ve gotten me interested. I… actually, ma’am, do you mind if I ask you how long you’ve been with McGehee?”
GM: “Four years and worth it every day,” Ms. Nguyen smiles. “And I’m afraid I can’t. Circulating who she was just makes it harder to put the incident behind us.”
Amelie: Amelie debates with herself for a moment before offering the guidance counselor a nod. She can’t ask about what group that girl might belong to. “Fair enough. I’m sure she’ll make herself known if she wants to cause any more trouble,” she relents. “Was there anything else, ma’am?”
GM: “I think a few things…” Ms. Nguyen spends the next chunk of time going over Amelie’s selection of classes for this and next semester, reviewing graduation requirements and previous academic records (Amelie’s grades back in Quebec notably suffered from her poor home life), and informing her of various scholastic resources open to students, such as the library and tutoring services. She also goes over deadlines for the SAT exam and college and financial aid applications—“just so you can keep those in mind, they’re the drumbeat everything here marches to.”
“Okay,” Ms. Nguyen finally concludes, “I think that’s everything. I may call you back in a week or two just to check up on how things are doing. And if no one’s said so already, welcome to McGehee,” the guidance counselor smiles in farewell.
Monday afternoon, 17 August 2015
GM: Half an hour later, Amelie is back home. Christina is still out, true to her word that morning, but has left a note on the dining room table saying she expects to be home. The afternoon is Amelie’s to spend as she wills.
Amelie: Amelie has a little while before her aunt gets home, it looks like. She spends that time in the kitchen cooking and listening to Google’s ‘text to speech’ feature recite her notes in its plain modulated voice while she hurries around. She spent years making food for a drunk who had zero ability to do those kinds of things for himself, and it made the rather butch girl a surprisingly competent cook. She has a simple stir-fry waiting for her aunt when she gets home, where she also finds the cooking dishes already washed and Amelie sitting in the kitchen on her laptop.
GM: It’s around 6 PM when Amelie hears a car outside and the front door opening. Christina greets her by the kitchen’s island and asks how her first day went, adding, “I hope you’ve started to make some friends.”
Amelie: Amelie perks up at the questions after her aunt comes in. “I think I did make one or two. Hard to tell at this school. My classes are proving interesting. How about yourself? Calm day at work?”
GM: “Oh yes, calm as ever. Kristina said you two got some good shopping done yesterday. And how thoughtful of you to make dinner, that smells scrumptious.” Her aunt gets out some napkins, plates and utensils to set down on the island.
Amelie: “I’m glad work was calm.” As suspicious as Amelie feels of of her aunt’s work, she does hope it went well. “I do need some advice, however. Something very odd happened at school today.”
GM: “Oh yes, what was that?” her aunt asks as she fills two glasses with water.
Amelie: “During lunch break I noticed someone watching me across the yard. I approached them and they ran. I found them again and it was a middle schooler. I got out of her that she ’wasn’t supposed to be seen’ watching me and someone gave her the task. I’m none too worried, maybe it was just a bad ripoff of an ‘elite of the school’ club, but I’m not sure how to proceed.”
GM: “That is strange,” Christina remarks as she spears a forkful of stir-fry. “How you should proceed depends on what you want to do about it, I suppose.”
Amelie: “I’m rather stuck on that, as well. I don’t know who the group in question is. The only options I see are to investigate the school’s history for a clue, find that girl again, or just ignore the group until I graduate or they contact me.”
GM: “Ignoring them doesn’t sound like a poor option if they haven’t bothered you yet,” her aunt remarks between a bite.
Amelie: “My only issue with that plan is the possibility of offending the ego of that group. If they’ve got eyes on me, and they know I’m aware? I could see a club of little heiresses taking offense.”
GM: “A club of little heiresses relying on even littler girls in training bras to do their dirty work?” her aunt wryly asks. “Until they actually do something to interfere with you, they don’t sound worth the time to me. It’s money, after all. You have much more important things you can spend yours on.”
Amelie: “Very true. I’ll take that advice, then. I do have a lot of things already on my plate. I hopefully have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch to gain access to the LaLaurie House, and I’ve got my business plans to set up—I also heard there’s a possible ISA grant through the school, I have to find a good pair of rollerskates until driver’s ed starts, and of course keeping up with all my other schoolwork and tour plans.” She slowly nods to herself as she tells her aunt about her plans. It helps her organize them better in her own head.
GM: “Sounds like a lot,” her aunt remarks. “Do you know when driver’s ed starts up?”
Amelie: Amelie sits up and reaches into her bag, pulling out the booklet with extracurricular activities she got from Ms. Nguyen, and pages through it for driver’s ed.
“The counselor called me in today. I still have that public school tightening in my gut every time that happens. But she gave me this. Should have information for driver’s ed.”
GM: “That’s thoughtful of the school to do. I think you’ll find that the staff here has a different way of doing things.”
Amelie spends about a minute paging through it before she finds the location and times for driver’s ed: 4:00 PM until 5:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting this week. Christina comments wryly on how “back in her day” driver’s ed was offered as an in-school class rather than an after-school activity, though she does comment on the late start time. “Probably so the girls can attend ‘real’ extracurriculars. I suppose even offering driver’s ed is more than I expected, it’s not as if learning to drive is something the students can put down on their college applications.”
The booklet says that driver’s ed lasts for a semester and teaches all the fundamentals of driving. Amelie’s aunt adds that she’s free to go to the DMV (“Department of Motor Vehicles, if you call it by something else back in Canada”) and take her licensing test at any point: driver’s ed simply teaches all the topics likely to come up.
Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit at her aunt’s words and recounts the look on the woman’s face when she mentioned her decision not to apply for college right out of McGehee. It’s a bit of a funny thought, that the school relies so much on those numbers from students heading to higher education when that should be public school’s aim. The pamphlet takes but a moment to get through, and she nods along to it all, hoping it comes with practical lessons as well. “The learner’s permit will be quick to get, especially. Then just a bit of practice and I’m sure I’ll be behind a wheel in no time.”
GM: “I remember when your grandfather taught your mother and me how to drive,” Christina recollects. “That would have been back in ‘85 or so. He started by having us drive laps around empty parking lots. Once we could do that, he’d have one of us play chauffeur whenever he or your grandmother left the house. Sometimes we’d drive out to Boston or along the I-95 to get practice at the harder aspects of driving. Cities and highways can be intimidating during those first few times behind the wheel. We got our learner’s permits after a few weeks and our licenses after maybe a few months. It doesn’t take too long.”
Amelie: Amelie isn’t able to hide a small frown at her aunt’s recollection of her and Mom’s childhood. Or at least teen years. She remembers back in that group home, when her ‘goal for the day’ was so often not to think about her missing parent. Now it’s twice in one day that she hasn’t been able to stop herself. Her normally straight-backed and formal tone cracks as she asks,
“Auntie? Has she… called you? Sent you a letter? Anything since she left? Anything at all?”
GM: Christina shakes her head and lays a hand on Amelie’s shoulder. “She hasn’t. I’m sorry. I can only imagine what that not knowing is like for you.”
Amelie: Amelie looks down at her aunt’s hand. The touch is nice. But that’s the only thing which is.
She clears her throat. “It was long enough ago that it’s dulled. I’m actually glad she hasn’t contacted you, if I’m honest. If just for the fact that it means I wasn’t the only part of her life she didn’t approve of.”
GM: “I can’t say what may have been going through your mother’s head when she chose to leave,” her aunt answers. “I wish I could. I wish she’d come back. That’s unfortunately out of our hands, so all we can do is go forward with our own lives.”
Amelie: “We’ll see her again. I’m almost sure of it.” Amelie’s tone isn’t hopeful, not one bit, but saying it seems to steel her again. “Until then, you’re right. I’ve got to go about my own life. That includes getting a few appointments settled, seeing if McGehee will be angry if I use their name for my tutoring credentials, and getting into the New Orleans HEMA group, because like my mother I need to hit things with sharp sticks every so often.”
GM: “Sounds relaxing,” her aunt observes with some amusement. “So far as upsetting McGehee, what are you planning there?”
Amelie: "Well, a business needs references. McGehee is a great reference, but I don’t know if they’d be happy if I posted on a flier. ‘McGehee Private school student offering private tutoring’ "
GM: “Oh, something like that? No, they won’t mind if all you’re doing is saying is that you go to McGehee.”
Amelie: “And yet, my day was baffling enough that I feel safer doubting. What about you? I heard from Kristina and even my Economics teacher, Lawrence Thurston, that you attend quite a few events. I hope I’m not keeping you.”
GM: Her aunt shakes her head. “Oh no. You’re not very likely to see many of those on a Monday night. I’m usually busier on weekends, but you’re old not to need me always around. You have my cell if there’s ever something you want to quickly get in touch over.”
Amelie: “Fair enough. I was surprised about Mr. Thurston though. It feels as though New Orleans is the only place I could find a high school teacher socialite.”
GM: “Lawrence Thurston, you said?” Her aunt seems to think the name over. “I think he worked for Whitney Bank. You can run into lots of mid-to-upper management corporate types at assorted functions, but more often as faces in the crowd than what you might be thinking of by ‘socialite’. There are a few members of the board of trustees who fit that profile, though. The investors behind the school are definitely old money.”
Amelie: “Maybe my definition of socialite is off. Though a lot of students are definitely old money, too. Sarah Whitney herself is in my final period class, that’s how I may have a meeting with the Whitney family patriarch. And I think I only got that ‘may’ by being partners with a daughter of the Devillers family. This school makes me feel like I’m playing a game of Renaissance social chess.”
GM: “I’d imagine that it does. Some perspective can be useful, though,” her aunt reflects as she finishes her dinner. “I lived in New York for some years before I moved south. The families here are welfare queens next to the money floating around in that city. New Orleans used to be one of the most important cities in the country, but that was two hundred years ago. Most of its old money families don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Or the one about how they lost the Civil War too.”
Amelie: Amelie listens closely and nods in agreement. Perspective is very important. The country she came from has nothing that compares to the kind of money and influence a world power throws around every day. New Orleans is shiny, but her aunt is right. Shiny silver isn’t worth a quarter as much as dull gold.
“I’ll keep that in mind. When I’m older maybe I’ll go and see New York, as well,” she concedes. She takes her aunt’s plate when she’s finished and reflexively moves to wash it in the sink.
“On a different note, I’ll be going out tomorrow after school. I want to take a look at the LaLaurie house from the outside, take some pictures. I want to view a church or two as well, maybe find a place I can buy some rollerskates. I know it sounds bad, but they’re handy.”
GM: “Louisiana is the poorest state in the Union today,” her aunt continues. “It has a thousand other ills from rampant political corruption to abysmal poverty and education rates, to the largest incarcerated adult population in the country. Louisiana has no industries truly competitive with those of other states besides tourism, most of which is based in New Orleans, and petroleum—and the latter is going to run out, no matter how much the Malveauxes may plug their ears and yell global warning is a hoax. If you managed to back a McGehee ‘heiress’ into a corner and got her to admit those problems are real, she’d probably say ‘they only really apply to the poor, my family can trace our ancestors back to the Confederacy and we’re so much better off.’ But they really aren’t. The state is equally ‘poor’ among its rich. It’s only home to two billionaires, one of whom spends half his time in Texas. The old families here really aren’t as rich or as important as they’d like to believe. All they have is their history.”
Christina doesn’t roll her eyes, but the sound is there in her voice.
“And their pride, goodness knows.”
Amelie: Amelie just stands there at the sink, stunned as she hears her aunt go off like a firework at the old families in the city. She actually breaks into a small fit of laughter as she squirts some soap over the dishes and turns back to her aunt. “That sounds like a lot of pent-up patronizing encounters with old family assholes,” she says, trying to regain her composure.
“I’ll keep that all in mind. I think that lifts a little bit of weight off their opinions for me, too. Even the councilor Ms. Nguyen said something along the lines of very few actual old families are putting their kids through McGehee.”
GM: Her aunt waves a hand as if to dismiss the whole topic. “You don’t need to wash that plate yourself, by the way, we have a dishwasher.”
“And I’m sure the LaLaurie House will be an interesting place to stop by. You should stop by a few of the Quarter’s cafés and restaurants while you’re out. Say what you will about the old families, but the cuisine here is to die for.”
“St. Louis Cathedral is also the most popular place to stop if you want to see an old church. It’s the seat of the Catholic archdiocese here, though there’s plenty more historic churches too.”
Amelie: Amelie feels a little silly as she notices the dishwasher and fits the plate inside. It’s been a while since she was in a house that had one of those.
“I think the cathedral is the one I’ll hit up, yes. It’s not liable to be too crowded on a Tuesday, I’m sure I’ll get to look around without much of an issue.”
GM: “Oh yes, it’s open to the public more or less all the time. There was a wedding going on the first time I visited, which struck me as fairly strange. Anyone was free to just walk in.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles at the thought of a wedding somewhere so historic, and that the building itself doesn’t close itself off even during those events.
“Well, thanks for the advice. I’ll go and sign up for the driver’s course tomorrow before I head out to the French Quarter. But for now, I should start studying and preparing. And thank you, for… well, talking about my mother with me. I’m sorry it’s been affecting you, too.”
GM: “People who disappear affect everyone who knows them, unfortunately,” her aunt remarks. “But don’t mention it. I’m glad that you still have your head in your studies after all that’s been going on.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and thinks back to her father. That pathetic husk. “If you ever want to talk about it more, we can. I’m sure it was hard being in a whole other country when it happened. Study though, it’s kinda relaxing for me. Plus, now I want to shove my grades in some welfare queen faces,” she smirks.
She thanks her aunt for the great talk and retreats up to her room. She spends most of her time studying notes over her laptop, but she also puts together details for her LaLaurie proposal on the side. There’s plenty of time in the night to study before bed.
There’s plenty of time ahead for anything.