“It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”
Friday morning, 28 August 2015
GM: Amelie lies wide awake with her clutched sword for what feels like hours. Sleep eventually steals over her like a nocturnal phantom neither locks nor doors may keep out. She awakens to the sounds of chirping birds and her phone’s automatic alarm, still clad in her clothes from the previous night. The sheathed sword rests beside her like a cold lover.
The dress she put on for Jill lies discarded on the floor like a once-comforting fancy now outgrown. Past the palm trees surrounding her aunt’s fine house, the rising sun is bright and fat, promising a long and always-humid day of stifling summer heat.
Amelie: However upset Amelie might be, her body refuses to let her routine fall to the wayside. She’s up on her feet almost reflexively once that alarm goes off. Her cold lover remains in the warm and comforting bed as she discards last night’s clothes and pulls on her morning shorts and a tank top that shows off the crags and valleys of her scarred back. She’d always joked that it was “cooked well-done.”
She’s outside in just moments, stretching and carrying dumbbells as she squats, fists and barbells on the ground and kicks her legs out into a plank. She holds the last position for a moment before quickly bringing herself back in to a squat, then jumps and hoists her arms above her head. The set goes on autopilot as her brain starts, or at least tries, to process past the numb shock from yesterday’s eavesdropped horrors.
Snuff films. Whoring. Her own kind and caring aunt, who literally gave the jacket off her back to protect her niece’s hand, being that kind of person. And still being the kind of person who manages such a lifestyle. She remembers Oscar’s words again, and how the madam who turned away virgins and was honored in a Catholic graveyard despite her occupation. Maybe it’s New Orleans’ twisted idea of ‘good enough.’
Amelie stands after her set and moves to push-ups. One arm grips the earth and pushes her body away from it while her other arm rests behind her, holding both dumbbells as she processes her new reality. She can’t undo what she’s heard. This is what her aunt does to make a living after she was disbarred from practicing as a lawyer, right?
Did she start out as an escort, or did she skip right to managing them? Her conversation with Jill sounded as though some of her girls were even upper class. If all of the girls’ mothers at school know Amelie because of who her aunt is, it stands to reason those rich and powerful people have wandering husbands. The new reality of her school situation does not leave her at ease over the upcoming house visit, and what she might have to do there.
Amelie switches hands and starts a second set, giving her body its needed daily hardship. The phone in her shorts finally buzzes, signaling the hour mark as the clock strikes 6 AM. The young woman lets herself back into the house and up to her room. She showers, dresses in her uniform, and sits at the breakfast table with a piece of toast. She stares at it and waits. Just to see how her aunt acts this morning, and whether she’ll act like she does every morning.
For once she doesn’t even know what she’s going to say or do. She just needs to see this woman and look her in the eye.
GM: Christina seems to rise later in the morning than Amelie does, but by 7 AM she’s dressed, downstairs, and making scrambled eggs and grits in the kitchen.
“Good morning. How’d you sleep?” she greets.
Amelie: Amelie usually has her schoolwork out to look over before class by this time. Now she just sits there with a plate of toast until Christina comes down. She stares at the back of her aunt’s head while she cooks.
“I slept. I was thinking a lot.”
GM: “Oh, yes? What about?” her aunt asks as she cracks some eggs and tosses the shells into the compost bin.
Amelie: “Why I want to start my business. And why it’s not the best idea.”
GM: Christina grates some cheese over the eggs, puts it back in the fridge, and turns on the stove.
“Starting a business has its share of challenges. What were your thoughts there?”
Amelie: “That my roots aren’t strong enough yet. Contacts-, notoriety-, and education-wise. And that I might just want to work for the sake of… working. Honestly, I’ve already run a business. I know how to order inventory, manage finances, and sort space and utilities. I ran that store for a while before people noticed.”
GM: “That could be some valuable experience to draw on,” her aunt remarks over the low crackling starting to sound from the pan. “Roots and education are also things you can build up with time and persistence.”
Amelie: “This city isn’t something I can tackle with brute force like I usually do. I can’t just keep my head down. It keeps stabbing me where I’m not looking.”
GM: “Has something come up at school?” Amelie’s aunt asks, turning off the stove to look at her.
Amelie: “No. I’m just not stupid, despite what that therapist might think. It’s more than just that, however. I need to know this place better.”
GM: Christina leaves the stove off and pulls out a stool to sit down across from Amelie. “That’s a fairly large change to your plans. Can I ask what prompted it?”
Amelie: “Talking about the Whitney Foundation, the cost of a professional shop, having this dance I was probably already going to attend shoved down my throat,” she lists, keeping her eyes down. It’s impossible for her to look the woman in the eye right now.
“I’m going to tell the career counselor that I’m shooting for Tulane. It’s not where you go, but with who.”
GM: Her aunt reaches across the table to touch her shoulder. “Amelie, are you all right?”
Amelie: Amelie steels herself for that touch, her knuckles white.
“I’m just having a realism day. It’s fine.”
GM: Still staring at the table, Amelie cannot see Christina’s expression as the latter asks, “Are you sure?”
Amelie: Amelie slowly rocks her knuckles around on the island. She knows she’s close to just… bursting and can barely contain it.
“New Orleans is not what I thought it’d be. I’m not scared of it, I just—some things here feel almost malignant.”
GM: “It can be a dark city,” her aunt agrees. “You’ve certainly seen how, with that lunatic stabbing you.”
Amelie: “It’s like the city is sick, or hurt. But I don’t know if it’s, like… supposed to be. Even good people can do things that seem like bad things.”
GM: “The city is the way it is,” her aunt replies. “New York and Boston were hurt too, in their own ways. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a flip side to the city. I’ve seen how you light up when you’re talking about its history. There are so many historic sites, museums, restaurants, festivals, and a hundred other things that you’d enjoy seeing. Maybe we should find some time this weekend. Or even after school. We could catch an early dinner at Antoine’s or some other nice place in the Quarter before your sleepover. And I know how much you’ve been looking forward to that, getting to see the inside of the LaLaurie House.”
Amelie: Amelie feels her chest getting tight. She clears her throat and rocks her knuckles against the countertop again. “That sounds nice. Really. Do you… enjoy having me here? I know you probably never wanted to have kids.”
GM: “Of course,” her aunt answers. Amelie still cannot see what Christina’s face might look like with her gaze fixed on the island’s granite surface. “You’re an amazing young woman, Amelie. You’re responsible, considerate, sweet, and your passion for the city and your work is infectious. Jill had so many nice things to say about you last night after you went to bed.”
Amelie: “Would you forgive me if I did something horrible? Something I shouldn’t have?”
GM: “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done something horrible, at some point. Someone who can’t look past that won’t have many friends.”
Amelie: Amelie feels her heart sink into her stomach. Her aunt’s trying to comfort her and has been nothing but perfect since she came here. Now there’s this betrayal. Amelie is less sure what to make of her aunt and her living than when she first heard that news. But fessing up to her trespass is the right thing to do.
“I eavesdropped. On my way upstairs, I wondered about your work and why you couldn’t talk about it. I’d never heard you mention any of your clients, or… I shouldn’t be trying to excuse it.”
GM: The black granite countertop continues to dominate Amelie’s vision. She still cannot see whatever look passes across her aunt’s face. There is only silence. When Christina’s reply finally comes, it’s hard and cool like that same granite.
“What did you overhear?”
Amelie: The silence makes Amelie feel like she’s a rabbit standing stock still with a dog just feet away. One that’s waiting to see which of them moves first. Her aunt’s reply sends a chill up her skin and makes her feel even smaller. Like she’s about to get told to pack her bags and leave the city. Back into… well, not the foster system anymore. God knows where now.
“The therapist, the school wanting to expel me, and… well, almost everything. You got quiet sometimes. I don’t know how I should feel. The first half was a good reality check, but your work, I… you’ve been too kind since I got here for me to believe you’re a bad person, Auntie. And that I think you have good intentions. All I can say is I’m sorry.”
GM: For all the meekness and profusion of Amelie’s tortured apologies, that looming feeling of danger over her head does not abate. Part of her may want to hope that if she looked up, she’d see forgiveness on her aunt’s face. But she doesn’t, and can only imagine what’s there. Maybe it’s a furious dog about to burst its chain and dash after the hare. Hare, like the word her aunt used for her ideas last night. Harebrained. Another thing she wasn’t supposed to hear.
There’s another pause, each second agonizingly long, before Christina asks in that same granite-hard voice:
“What did you hear about my work?”
But it isn’t a cool hard. For the first time since Amelie came to New Orleans, her aunt sounds as if she might be truly angry.
Amelie: Amelie has to force the breath out of her lungs to speak. Like a rabbit allowing its defense mechanism to trigger, ready to let the dog rip her apart with numbed senses.
“That you’re a New Orleans madame. Like Josie Arlington.”
GM: Christina’s hand abruptly slams down on the island’s surface. Amelie might flinch, but retains enough self-composure to keep her eyes from jerking up.
“Do not talk to me about fucking history now!”
Amelie: “It helps me relax! Having a point I can keep focus on, instead of freaking out! I’m scared! I didn’t want anything to change, and now my heart feels like it’s going to shoot out my mouth. I spent the entire night choking back fear that I’d either have to keep a secret from you, or that you’d hate me for this. I’m even freaked out that I’m not, like… FREAKED out by what you do, I just don’t want you to think I’m a danger to you now or that I look down on what you do, or…” she trails off, pulls on her skirt and keeps her eyes on the countertop.
GM: Christina’s hand doesn’t pull back. As Amelie furtively stares at the black granite, her aunt asks in a voice that’s slightly cooled but has become no less hard, “Whose names did you hear?”
Amelie: “Warren. I think Whitney.”
GM: “Oh, really? You are such a good student, are you sure that’s all?”
Amelie: “Please don’t do that. Of course I heard Kristina’s name.”
GM: There’s a flash of skin in Amelie’s peripheral vision, and then her toast’s plate is gone. It loudly shatters into a hundred pieces against the wall.
“Then perhaps you should have said so when I fucking asked for names!”
Amelie can feel the heat off her aunt’s face and hear the uneven tenor of her breath.
Amelie: The situation suddenly veers into more familiar territory. Amelie can almost feel her father in the room. The sudden violent action gets her heart beating harder instead of faster, and steels her somewhat. She’d snap back at the woman if not for the fact she’s trying to make up for being in the wrong.
“I was starting with the dangerous name.”
GM: “Well go on then, Amelie! Let’s hear the rest! Did you memorize every client I discussed with Jill? Or do you want to wait on those, maybe find out what they like to do in bed too, and say sorry after you spill every last one!”
Amelie: “You think I’d tell anyone, and put you in danger!? Why do you think I came to you instead of just keeping this a secret. It was dangerous to have me walking around knowing without you being aware of it. And if people are aware of who you are and who I am to you, and you say they are, how do I know that the Whitneys agreeing to let me stay in this empty private-gated house aren’t the wives plotting? The last thing I want is someone trying to hurt you because I’m around.”
GM: Christina abruptly yanks Amelie’s chin upwards, forcing the younger woman’s gaze away from the countertop. Her aunt’s normally so-composed face is red with anger as her chest rises and falls. Her eyes bore into Amelie’s with an edge no less sharp than any of her prized swords.
“I said: What. Other. Names. Did you hear? ALL OF THEM, Amelie!”
Amelie: Amelie almost rises to grab at her aunt. A hand gets halfway to gripping her wrist before she wrenches it back down to the counter. Tears form at the corners of her eyes.
“That was IT! Those were the only two names!!!”
GM: Christina lets go of her niece. “Three tries to finally get that right.”
The half-cooked eggs in the pan have long since cooled into a formless white and yellow mess.
“You are not to breathe so much as a word of what you snooped to ANYONE. I don’t care if it’s your friends. I don’t care if it’s the police. I don’t care if Sarah walks up to you and says she already knows what her father likes to do in bed. I don’t care if my sister calls you and says she’ll come back if you start blabbing. Whoever it is—whenever it is—you are to keep your mouth CLOSED. Is that understood?”
Amelie: Amelie feels like crying. She feels like grabbing her stool and fighting her way out of the kitchen. That crack about her mother is a real fucking low blow. It doesn’t drag up any further violent thoughts when her aunt lets go of her chin, just hurt and scared ones. Her aunt has more than shown her kindness during the short time she’s been here. But Amelie isn’t blind to the danger her aunt has put them both in, either.
“If I wasn’t resolved to keep my mouth shut, and you safe, I wouldn’t have come to you. I’m keeping my mouth shut.”
GM: “Keep me ‘safe?’ Oh, do not give me that ‘responsible adult’ bullshit!” Christina seethes. “You know what adults do? They respect each other’s requests for privacy, instead of listening through doors like fucking children! They put other people’s wishes over their own curiosity! And they consider, that just sometimes, maybe there are things they’re better off not knowing!”
“You like listening to gossip, Amelie? You like finding out strangers’ dirty laundry? Well then, let’s give you some more, and see how you like it when the owners aren’t strangers!”
Her aunt starts ticking off fingers. “Let’s see, of your teachers, Mr. Thurston helped his bosses defraud poor families and get them thrown out of their homes during the ‘07-’08 financial meltdown, because he is a company man to the end.”
“Ms. Perry is a rape survivor, I have good instincts for picking up on that.”
“Mr. French is a high-functioning alcoholic except for several weekend DUIs, I do wonder how long it will take until he runs over people instead of cats and dogs.”
“Ms. Ward, she was the teacher who first brought her ‘concerns’ over you to the upper school principal and then the headmistress. You think they decided they wanted you expelled on a lark this many weeks in?”
“Droopy-eyed old Mrs. Laurent, have you ever considered there might be a reason she looks so sleepy during class all the time?”
“And sweet Mrs. Flores, where to start with her life, besides that she’s tried to end it at least once. I’m not sure whether her attempted suicide was because her husband liked to beat her until her eyes were too swollen to see through, or because he shattered her leg after she tried to leave him. She’d have no leg at all if he hadn’t been drunk off his ass when he tried to saw it off with that hacksaw, although it certainly put an early end to her ballerina career. He’s the senate majority leader in Baton Rouge now, by the way, and contemplating a run for federal office in the next election. There’s a rumor he also raped one of his daughters, too.”
“There.” Christina sweeps a hand dramatically. “A giant stinking hamper of filth and shit and soiled things that everyone wanted to keep in the back of the laundry room, dark and out of sight. You didn’t even have to strain your ears too hard this time. Are you still curious, Amelie? Should I start with your new friends next? Hannah’s family isn’t nearly as good at keeping secrets as they think they are.”
Amelie: Amelie just sits there as she mutely listens to the horrors her aunt unleashes. It’s not that most of it bothers her: she knows her teachers have lives of their own, despite how awful some of their secrets are. It’s the fact her aunt is dumping those secrets on her as a punishment. The woman’s rage is overwhelming, as the last family she has in this world…
It’s too much. The tears that had started to form finally fall, and are joined by others. The young woman breaks into sobs, blubbering apologies and admissions of guilt.
GM: “You’re going to be late for school,” her aunt finally sighs, rubbing a hand against her forehead. “We’ll finish this later.”
Amelie: Amelie would say she’s never exited a room as quickly as she does now, but she’d be lying. The graceful young woman rabbits from the house with her bag before her aunt can say another word. She rubs the resentment and tears off her face with the inside of her blazer, pulls herself back together, and simply looks run-down when she gets to school.
GM: Amelie is fortunate that her house is already one of the last stops on the bus route to McGehee, which allows her to arrive only somewhat late by walking. But that’s as far as her luck seems to hold out. It’s still swelteringly hot and muggy outside. She’s still perspiring when she arrives at school. Her sweat leaves visible wet stains against the white dress shirt’s armpits. Her eyes may still be red from crying.
No other girls say anything to her face. But after all she’s heard last night, how she “isn’t one of” the sorts of girls who attend McGehee, it’s impossible not to wonder how many of the faint whispers, sly glances, and subdued laughs among the students she passes are directed at her. The madame’s ugly twenty-year-old bulldyke niece.
Amelie: Amelie’s eyes unfocus as she makes her way through the halls. She slides her blazer on to hide her sweat stains and lets the air conditioning send a small shiver down her spine. Every set of eyes feels like daggers waiting to drive into her back, but they stab dead flesh. Of course she’s never been one of them. She’s no citizen of Sodom like these Southern dandies.
Amelie never considered how all of these people might have their own secrets. But the rotten film over this place isn’t anything worse than she saw her father fall into. She saw it as the ward of a province buckling under refugees, a new wave of deadly drugs, a suicidal Native population, and absent parents. She thought New Orleans would have been different, somehow.
But it’s not. It’s another place where she’ll cut someone’s face open and bash them over the head with a chair leg. It’s another place where she’s smarter than many people and definitely stronger than them.
But she’s left almost alone.
GM: Amelie isn’t late enough to earn a tardy slip from Mr. Thurmon, but the old man still gives her a, “Tut tut. Punctuality, dear,” in his lazy Southern drawl while the rest of the class smiles oh-so politely on. “Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, time is the one thing everyone on God’s earth receives for free—and should value just as much. It’s the ultimate commodity, so valuable that it can’t be bought or sold for all the money in the world. There’s a reason your family has a clock for their bank’s symbol, Miss Whitney,” he drones on before smiling at Sarah, who smiles prettily back.
Sarah, whose father gets off to watching girls like Kristina Winters to hang themselves, and pays them to do it for his videos. And who watches films where girls actually die. Next to that sin, Mr. Thurston remaining a ‘company man’ during the Great Recession seems almost banal.
Amelie: Amelie gives the true capitalist that is Mr. Thurston a humble apology as she steps into his class, slides into her seat, and settles in. She takes out her laptop and starting on her notes.
The attention she pays Sarah brings another small realization. ‘Miss Whitney’ is no longer the slightly intimidating blue blood she was yesterday. She’s a 17-year-old girl dancing a thin line in a house with a man who constantly contemplates murder and stages it with prostitutes to get his rocks off on the regular. Filthy.
Amelie pushes it out of her mind and returns to her notes. She’s still determined to keep her grades at the top of the class. Even in this one.
GM: Mr. French seems as impersonal and business-focused as ever during second period. Amelie has to wonder if his attitude is truly as dedicated to his students’ academic success as it seems like, or if he just doesn’t care enough to relate to them like Mr. Thurston does. She wonders how many pets he’s killed during his DUIs, and whether he cried or if it just didn’t bother him. The pets’ owners might have cried. She wonders if killing a person would make him cry.
Amelie: Amelie is no stranger to alcoholism. Her father’s manifested differently than Mr. French’s, but she remembers having to hide keys, sabotage the car, take screaming fits on the chin, and (on the worst days) endure bottles flying at her. Mr. French seems a lot more subdued. She wonders if anyone is there to deal with him. She absently checks his left hand.
GM: She observes a gold wedding ring.
Amelie: It’s hard not to feel bitter about the thought of Mr. French having a family. But there is one thing Amelie is certain of. If he’s as far gone as her father, he wouldn’t cry until the courts kept him from a bottle for too long.
She stops to talk with him after class. She shows the pictures of her sword on her phone, and offers to bring the sword in as a historic example. Just to see how he’ll react. If he’ll show any outward emotion.
GM: Mr. French looks the photo over and smiles pleasantly before remarking, “That’s not bad. Obviously a contemporary piece. It could use some decoration. A sword’s only good for being pretty nowadays, after all.”
Amelie: Mr. French draws a small chuckle out of Amelie. She assures him that the Germans of the Landsknecht only started decorating their weapons after they become lazy and worthless, and stopped after they were humiliated. She assures him the sword is wonderful in person, just a bit different than the gold and gilded pieces one sees in museums. But she doesn’t push him otherwise on the chance to show off.
GM: Mr. French shrugs at Amelie’s insistence the sword looks nice. “Did you want my opinion or to change my mind?”
Amelie: Amelie makes no such attempts and leaves Mr. French to his own.
GM: “Weapons aren’t allowed on campus, anyways,” he finishes. “Feel free to include some pictures during your project’s presentation.”
Third period is spent with the so-often joke-cracking and smirking Ms. Perry. Amelie has to wonder how upbeat the teacher’s attitude was during her rape. She wonders how violently Ms. Perry’s violator took her, and what she sounds like when she screams and cries. Did she scream and cry, or just take it silently? Maybe she begged. Amelie wonders what Ms. Perry sounds like when she begs.
Her smile seems a bit dimmer today. When a student asks what happened to her missing engagement ring, it looks even less convincing as she answers, “We broke it off. Plenty more fish in the sea, though.”
Amelie: Third period is much harder than the day’s previous ones. The news that Ms. Perry broke off her engagement only sharpens the questions in Amelie’s mind. The struggles that her teacher has to be going through are immense. She knows how hard sexual insecurity can make relationships.
She takes a moment after class to give the teacher a few consoling words and a bitter smile. She offers her phone number if Ms. Perry ever wants to get her mind off things. It’s the best she can do for the woman, bitter as it feels to try.
GM: Ms. Perry gives another not fully convincing smile and thanks Amelie for her concern, but replies that her students should stay focused on themselves. “Don’t you girls worry about me, I’m outta high school. You just keep your eyes on that GPA.”
Amelie: Amelie only remarks, “People should focus on other people,” leaves a post-it on the desk with her phone number, and gives another small supportive smile on her way out. If there are any teachers who deserve a little support, one of them has to be Ms. Perry.
GM: Ms. Perry thanks Amelie again before she leaves, but replies that it’s not appropriate for her to burden students with too many details of her personal life. Amelie is free to call her (her phone number is posted on the faculty website) if she’s looking for a sympathetic ear or has any problems of her own that she wants to talk about, though. The school’s adults are here for her.
Lunch initially seems like a high point to look forward to. When Amelie ventures outside to the spot under the banana tree where she’s eaten with Hannah, Megan, and Rachel, she finds it empty—save for a still-green, unripened banana smooshed over one of the tree’s roots. A dark cloud of buzzing flies is already greedily devouring the pulped remains.
Amelie searches the cafeteria and exterior grounds for her friends, but only finds circle after circle of other peoples’ enjoying their lunches together. Their silently laughing eyes seem to follow the sweaty and disheveled college-age dyke who’s wandering around alone with her lunch tray.
The cheese-, bacon-, and sour cream-topped baked potato with its side of buttery creamed spinach doesn’t seem to taste nearly as good as the cafeteria’s usual fare today.
Amelie: Lunch is the worst part of the day far. Amelie is sure her friends just have… other activities when she finds their spot empty. That’s it. The other girls’ daggers seem sharper when she’s alone, but she takes it stride as best she can. She eventually sits down alone to eat her potato and spinach. She has a small appetite despite not having breakfast and reminds herself to eat at a moderate pace. The food might as well be gruel.
She puts away her tray once she’s done and spends a few minutes in the bathroom washing her face with cold water and fixing her hair. She uses cold damp paper towels to dab her neck and wipe her pits, then reapplies the antiperspirant from her bag. She remembers a lesson from her mother as she does—a rare thing.
Amelie. To be fierce is only to appear fierce to others. If you must be as weak as paper, be a paper tiger.
GM: Amelie finds the bathrooms very full during lunch hour. Most of the girls don’t bother to wear makeup at the boy-less school, but they still care about looking presentable. Amelie’s peers ignore her presence one and all, but it’s only after she locks herself inside a stall that an unseen voice remarks,
“You could just shave yourself bald, you know… be even less work then.”
“Sad dyke is sad!” laughs another voice.
“Least if one of those bathroom bills pass ‘she’ won’t be allowed in here anymore,” sounds a third.
“He, more like. I hear he’s a retard too. Isn’t he like twenty-five?”
There’s a round of giggles, followed by retreating footsteps. When Amelie opens the stall door, the girls on the other side seem well gone.
Amelie: Lunch offers a small return to form. All of those girls are too cowardly to insult Amelie to her face. That’s familiar enough that their laughter only gets an amused little “hah!” when the second girl can’t even think of anything to say besides ‘sad’ and ‘dyke.’ Amelie gives herself one last check-over in the mirror to make sure nothing is wrong with her appearance, fixes her shirt, and walks out of the bathroom feeling no worse than when she stepped in.
GM: Ms. Ward seems to have even less patience for Amelie than usual during fourth period. She berates her in front of the entire class for her “poor attitude today” and finishes the public telling-off with, “Unacceptable, Ms. Savard. If you aren’t willing to come to class with a smile, then you can frown by yourself in detention.”
A few of other girls smirk. Most just watch with their silently judging and laughing eyes.
Amelie recalls her aunt’s words on how the science teacher “brought her concerns” over Amelie to the upper school principal and headmistress, who now want to expel her. She wonders if Ms. Ward is aware of that and whether she approves. She contemplates the irony of her youngest teacher having the seemingly biggest chip on her shoulder. She has to wonder if Ms. Ward is bitter in general or has something out for her personally.
Amelie: Ms. Ward’s period is soul-crushing, but Amelie takes it on the chin as best she can. She gives the teacher an apologetic smile and an actual apology, but offers no excuses. This isn’t something she can fight today, so she keeps that smile on for the rest of the class, or at least as much as she can.
Chemistry is easy for her to get excited about, at least. The language of chemicals and her favorite part of chemistry, the chemicals of minerals. Ca(UO2)2(PO4)2·10-12H2Ois her favorite: French Autunite. That’s followed of course by (K,Na)Ca4Si8O20(F,OH)·8H2O, or Arizona Apophyllite. The thought of chemical findings actually does lend her tired smile an earnest twinge. She just hopes it’s enough to appease Ms. Ward.
GM: Ms. Ward corrects Amelie that she is to be addressed as either ’ma’am’ or ‘Dr. Ward,’ but seems to find no excuse to send her to attention. The other students all seem to be in a chipper mood and repeatedly make their teacher smile.
Mrs. Laurent is as quiet-voiced and droopy-eyed as ever during fifth period. After this many weeks, most of the girls have given up on trying to get their teacher to speak at a louder volume. Amelie thinks back to her aunt’s words and has to wonder what Mrs. Laurent is on. Or what happened to her. Or what she’s doing.
Such thoughts are interrupted when the philosophy class teacher has the students turn their desks inward for small group discussions. Amelie has to wonder if any of her partners are the girls who mocked her from behind the bathroom stall’s concealing walls.
Amelie: Amelie has the least information on what’s up with Mrs. Laurent. She can conjecture a lot, from opiate addiction to fibromyalgia, but it doesn’t change anything when she’s pulled inward for the group discussion. It does occur that some of her partners might be the girls who mocked her in the bathroom. But Amelie knows they would never reveal themselves, cowards that they are. She passes the class time as best she can, puts her full effort into the discussions, and tries to include herself without thinking too much about next period.
It’s not going to be as relaxing as before. Not after she knows so much about another one of her favorite teachers.
GM: In sixth period, a stool-seated Mrs. Flores greets the class with a “happy Friday, everybody!” and gives them a few minutes to change into their “casual Friday attire” in the locker rooms, which Amelie realizes she forgot about after last night. Almost all of the other girls leave to go change. Hannah is one of the few who doesn’t. When Amelie asks where she was, she replies that “something came up” during third period, which she shares with Rachel and Megan. She adds that she talked with Yvette and is looking forward to the slumber party tonight.
Amelie: Amelie stays behind. She’s glad that Hannah’s there with her, and even more glad to hear something came up during the period she shares with their other friends. She tells Hannah that someone left a banana to rot in their usual spot, anyway. She also expresses how much she’s looking forward to tonight.
It’s not a comfortable realization that she still has to go home to pack. She hopes her aunt won’t be there. She even wonders if she should bring her sword along, but quickly dismisses the idea as overkill. Three knives, a prybar, mace, and the sword would make her look like she’s planning more than just self-defense.
She also shows off her newly un-bandaged hand to Hannah before class starts. She’s happy to see that it’s almost completely healed besides the rather ugly new scar. Function remains good and there’s no real pain, just some soreness. Not that it would stop her even if it did.
GM: It’s not long before the rest of Amelie’s classmates return in their well-heeled dresses. Mrs. Flores smiles and remarks over how pretty the girls all look, but the still-seated teacher cancels class after ten minutes because her leg hurts too badly today for her to walk around. She smiles again and exhorts, “Guess it’s y’all’s lucky day, go enjoy that sun and early weekend!” as she lets the students loose.
Amelie is no stranger to cutting implements. She has to wonder what kinds of incisions she would need to make to with her sword to inflict that sort of years-long harm on someone. Her area of expertise is lies in swords rather than hacksaws, admittedly. She has to wonder what Mrs. Flores looks like when her eyes are too puffed and blackened to see through, and what she sounds like when she screams. Ms. Perry could have endured her rape silently, but Mrs. Flores had to have screamed when the hacksaw drunkenly sawed through her leg. Amelie has to wonder how much blood there was, and whether it was possible to tell if her teacher was crying past the blood and bruises. She had to have cried. Amelie has to wonder how long ago that night was (because such things always happen at night), and how long it’s been since Mrs. Flores’ children last spoke to her. She has to wonder how many times the dance teacher has cried over that too, and how scared she still is of her ex-husband.
Amelie: It raises Amelie’s alarm when class gets canceled early. Mrs. Flores has to be in serious pain from her injury. It’s not one her swords are capable of inflicting, if she’s honest. Clean smooth cuts either kill people or heal just fine with modern medicine. They cause less pain. Jagged tearing cuts, though, are terrifying. Saws and rusty cleavers, the jagged back edges of hunting knives, the serrated teeth of predators: they leave skin ripped apart and in disarray, with no clear vision of how to heal itself. That’s when amputations become necessary.
Amelie is no expert in modern hacksaws, but she’s studied wounds where the hacksaw is the cure.
Old cannonball injuries tore legs to shreds and required field surgeons to shear the flesh from the wound using blacks, hammers, and hatchets (or better yet, saws). They would cut a wedge, pull out more bone than skin, and press the wedges back together. Surgeons sometimes doubled as barbers. They used their straight razor to slice of any bits of errant flesh to prevent rot. Amelie has also read medical texts in which leprous and gangrenous limbs were grabbed by the ankle or wrist and had a sickle-shaped blade drawn around the arm until bone was the only thing that remained before being hacksawed off. Success was minimal and suffering immense. Patients died from blood loss as often as they died from shock.
But none of that knowledge makes Amelie any less shocked. She stares at her teacher’s leg and can almost hear her screaming in the back of her head. She zones out for a moment as she imagines it from a first-person perspective, the ex-husband’s face a blur. The former ballerina’s heart must have been racing with horror as she was overpowered, mutilated, and made to feel so helpless. Her heart might have stopped just to protect her from shock. The thought burns Amelie like a white-hot coal in her ribcage as Jill’s words ring in her ear. How anyone can kill when pushed far enough.
She allows herself a vision of that man standing over Mrs. Flores. She can almost feel his skin part and his bones shatter as she cuts into him. She imagines clamping her hands around his neck and seeing the terror in his eyes before she twists the blade and parts his shoulder from his neck. Thoughts of hurting people like ‘that’ don’t twist her stomach like she knows they should. They give her pleasure.
She keeps picturing the slice across her father’s face after he cornered her. She felt so helpless before she grabbed the unfinished blade off the wall. She wonders if she could stomach it a second time: seeing what happens to someone’s face after the cut. That senator deserves what comes after the cut.
Amelie snaps back to the reality after a moment, steadies herself, and suppresses a shiver. She fills in Hannah on the sleepover’s scheduled time and place. She thanks her for the heads up on what happened during third period, then approaches Mrs. Flores.
“Would you like me to get you an ice pack, ma’am? Or get something from your car for you?”
GM: Hannah confirms she’ll see Amelie at the LaLaurie House before she heads off with the rest of the class.
Mrs. Flores smiles, oblivious to the violent yet so-tempting thoughts warring in Amelie’s head. “Oh, that’s so kind of you, Miss Savard. I’d be obliged if you could bring over my purse and save me the trip,” she says, motioning towards one of the room’s cubbies.
Amelie: Amelie brings over the purse quickly but carefully. “Well, Mr. Jones always did say to look for the helpers, cheesy as that sounds.”
GM: Mrs. Flores accepts the flower-printed roomy pink purse with a “thank you” and sets it down by her stool. She gives a laugh at Amelie’s words. “Yes, Mr. Jones was just the sweetest man, wasn’t he? There might’ve been some controversy around him, but I made sure my kids all watched his show when they were growing up.”
Amelie: “He was. It makes me happy that they still air his show years later. I still listen to it when I study sometimes. Are you sure I can’t do anything else for you?”
GM: Mrs. Flores seems to wince as she rubs her leg, but manages another smile. “That’s so thoughtful of you to offer, Amelie, it really is. But you’ve done just about all you can. Some days I can feel when it’s going to be a bad one and know what to pack.” She pats the purse in emphasis.
Amelie: Amelie rubs her shoulder and feels the start of her burns. “I can understand that on a smaller scale.”
GM: “Still,” the dance teacher says thoughtfully, “if you’re really fixin’ to do something for me, maybe next week you could join the other girls for casual Friday? It really does add a lot to the class, I think, for everyone to dress up like they were at a real dance.”
Amelie: “I will. Promise. I was going to this week, but I had a busy morning. I think everyone will be surprised I can wear heels,” she jokes, offering the teacher a small smile.
GM: “Maybe they will, but I don’t think I’ll be,” Mrs. Flores smiles back. “Dancing in heels just takes time and practice, and I’ve seen how much of yourself you put into this class.” She then adds in a lower voice with a wink, “Even if I do have to rag on you sometimes to play the lady.”
“Anyways, Amelie, I won’t keep you, I’m sure you have places you’d like to be on a day this lovely.”
Amelie: Amelie smiles and nods, feeling assured by the talented teacher. She gives Mrs. Flores a light touch on the shoulder before she excuses herself. Her next stop is to see whether the two people she needs to talk with are available: the career councilor and the school shrink.
GM: Amelie finds that Mrs. Achord is unavailable today without a prior appointment, but Ms. Nugyen is still free. The guidance counselor welcomes Amelie in to her office and appears thrilled by the news that she wants to apply to Tulane.
Ms. Nguyen wastes little time in explaining that the application deadline is January 15th and the early action deadline is November 15th. Ms. Nguyen repeats that while a good GPA will help Amelie get in, Tulane has a very selective acceptance rate at 26 percent. Good grades are not enough—“A lot of girls here have 4.0s”—so Amelie will need noteworthy extracurricular activities as well. Letters of recommendation from older adults will help too, if she can get any. She should also begin preparing for the SAT exam. Registration is in September and the exam itself is in October.
The guidance counselor finally adds that Amelie should apply to more schools than just Tulane. It’s possible she won’t get in, “so it can be a good thing to have a backup plan, if you don’t want to wait a whole year before applying again.” Application deadlines vary by college. Finally, there is the matter of scholarships, student loans, and whatever other financial aid Amelie wants to obtain in paying for school—more applications with more deadlines. Applying for college is a lot of work.
“Engineering club is good,” Ms. Nguyen adds as Amelie explains her plans, “but you should shoot for more than just one club. Having specific awards and achievements you can put down on your application will also help it stand out. ‘Second-year state semi-finalist and third-year state finalist’ looks a better than, for instance, ‘three-year member of the chess club’.”
Amelie: Amelie outlines a few of her plans. First of all, she wants to join the historical HEMA organization in New Orleans, System d’Armes. Its members list includes quite a few academics, as well as people who regularly lecture at Tulane. Secondly, she wants to enter local robotics and ‘brain bowl’ competitions to show her interest in STEM fields and score high in, if not bring home awards. She inquires whether McGehee gives any internal awards and names a few other schools she’s interested in, MIT still included, as secondary options. She’d like to stay in New Orleans if possible, though.
“I’ll be honest, ma’am, I just wanted to work like I’ve been doing all my life. I realize now that I have to have a pedigree for people to take me seriously. I’ll found a fencing club at this school to get my name in the annals, if I must. There are a lot of girls in this school with 4.0 GPAs, but none as hungry as me for the next step.”
GM: Ms. Nugyen tells Amelie frankly that she is very unlikely to be accepted into MIT. She can certainly apply, but the school’s acceptance rate is less than 10%. More of its students are postgrads than undergrads. MIT looks for “super students” who are, essentially, the best of the best in everything. Amelie, unfortunately, has a fairly so-so transcript from her first three years in high school. Her troubled home life and subsequent time in foster care was not good for the then-teenager’s grades, even bright as she was. Dropping out of school for several years also does not look good on her transcript.
Amelie might be able to get into Tulane, if she does everything perfectly right over the next few months—which includes getting reference letters from connected adults who can leverage their ties to “people in the right places” at the local university. Tulane isn’t sure odds, so Ms. Nguyen also cites Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, and several other local colleges that Amelie can apply to if she wants to stay in the city.
“HEMA sounds like a good extracirricular for you participate in, especially if there are people there with connections to Tulane,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “As I’ve said, you’ll be doing three years of work in just one if you want your application to be competitive. So I’d recommend fitting in additional clubs, volunteer work, local competitions… really, anything that can take up extra lines on the paper.”
Amelie: Amelie is aware that MIT needs exceptional students to fill its quotas for fame. But she’s also sure that she wants to at least apply. She might be lucky, or someone looking at her application might think her odd skillset has potential. A girl can dream, or at least look ‘fondly’ at a rejection letter to fuel her.
She apologizes for her rudeness when it comes to the topic of competitions, but Louisiana isn’t a big state. Some of the things she does best might have to happen out of state. The greatest duelist in the history of the South might have made his living in New Orleans, but the modern city doesn’t even have a state fencing club outside of HEMA, its national competitions, and the Ordo Procintus’ brutal full contact tournaments.
She also asks if there are any academic awards, charities, or competitions with a link to the Malveaux family that she can pursue. She found their family matriarch’s talk on the first day of school rather moving. She also agrees that applying to those secondary choice colleges is a good idea to keep her in New Orleans, though she hopes Tulane will be her first stop.
GM: “The Louisiana fencing circuit isn’t something I’m too familiar with, so I’d find someone who knows more than me if you want to participate in that,” Ms. Nguyen says in response to Amelie’s HEMA tangent. “Wish I could be more help there, sorry.”
She looks thoughtful when Amelie asks about the Malveauxes. “I think one of the Malveauxes placed highly in a few fencing tournaments, actually. Another girl I had in my office mentioned it once. You might kill two birds with one stone by asking about them.”
Amelie: “How would I go about asking about one of the city’s old families? I don’t expect they just have public records hanging around.”
GM: “Well, none of the Malveauxes go to McGehee, so that is a little tricky. You might try asking some of your teachers.” The guidance counselor thinks a moment, then briefly types into her computer. “Let’s see, pulling up your classes list… I bet Mr. Thurston or Mrs. Flores could be the most help there. Mr. Thurston was a pretty successful banker for the Whitneys, and Mrs. Flores married a state senator, so they both could have rubbed elbows with the Malveauxes.”
Amelie: “Mr. Thurston just might, but I don’t think it’d be appropriate to ask Mrs. Flores,” Amelie muses. “Vera Malveaux did come to speak at the school, so maybe she’d read a letter from me when I’m a student at her alma mater. But I’ll definitely ask Mr. Thurston. I have time before school normally ends, since my dance class got canceled.”
GM: “Sounds like a plan,” Ms. Nguyen nods. “If he’s teaching right now you can probably pull up Mrs. Malveaux’s address online.”
The guidance counselor goes on to confirm that the Malveauxes are involved in a number of charitable organizations, many of which Vera iterated during her speech before the school. Ms. Nguyen presumes, however, that Amelie is asking about scholarships and volunteer opportunities. She pulls up the application page urls for the Malveaux Cultural Trust, the James C. Malveaux Charitable Foundation, the William Dyer Institute, and several other scholarship databases that she passes on to Amelie. She also adds that the teenager should look into applying for financial aid, and that FAFSA’s recommended deadline was in June. The sooner that’s done, the better—if she can’t pay tuition, it doesn’t matter what school accepts her.
Amelie: Amelie considers it and wonders just where she can go to make the most difference on her college resume. Competitions, memberships, grants, volunteer work. The Malveaux family sounds like a good place to start. They’re old money and invested enough in New Orleans’ history and future to be associated with all of these charities. If Amelie can just MEET Vera Malveaux in person, or even send that letter, maybe she can work her way into her personal graces through the woman’s charity work. And if anyone can restore items from New Orleans’ history, it’s Amelie, after all. Her family’s fencing history might also be a good icebreaker.
GM: Ms. Nguyen also belatedly answers Amelie’s question about awards granted by McGehee. There are quite a few of these, she nods, including for Academic Distinction, NHS, Perfect and Exemplary Attendance, National Merit, Outstanding Community Involvement, and many more. These awards are typically most sought by and awarded to juniors, “So your time might be better spent on the extracurriculars that are the bread and butter of any college application.”
But it’s plain as day to the new and unpopular teenager. Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think Amelie has any chance of earning the school’s awards next to girls like Sarah and Susannah.
Amelie: The talk about awards bothers Amelie slightly. It’s plain as day that Ms. Nguyen doesn’t think she has any chance of earning them next to girls like Sarah and Susannah. Everyone here seems so fine with using family history as a measure of worth.
She’s sure that those two are smart and capable. They’re involved in student government and probably a lot of other school functions. She’s sure Ms. Nguyen would change her tune, though, if she’d been going to McGehee since ninth grade. It’s frustrating not to have more time to show how exceptional she is.
“So you suggest I find Vera Malveaux’s address to send her a personal letter?”
GM: Ms. Nguyen thinks. “You know, going to Mr. Thurston might actually be better. Anyone can just send a letter—or brush one off—but another person can probably answer your questions better. Or make an actual introduction.”
Amelie: “I’ll see if he’s teaching a class right now, then. I’ll approach him afterwards to broach the topic if he is. I doubt he wants me to keep him too long from his weekend.”
GM: Ms. Nguyen agrees, asks Amelie if there’s anything else she wants to discuss, and then lets her loose with an, “Okay, I think this should be enough to keep you pretty busy for a while.”
Amelie has half an hour or so to kill before sixth period gets out.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t have anything else she wants to go over. She thanks the guidance councilor for her time and help, then makes an appointment with the desk lady to see Mrs. Achord as soon as possible. Her walk back to her first period classroom is leisurely. She patiently waits by the door until the bell rings if she hears a class being conducted inside.
GM: Mrs. Nancy Noah sets up the appointment with Mrs. Achord for Amelie before exhorting her to “Go out and enjoy the sun, youngun!” Doing the opposite, she waits outside Mr. Thurston’s classroom and plays on her phone until the bell rings.
Uniformed girls chat as they file out. A few linger behind to talk with their teacher. They’re all prettier than Amelie is, and talk in the same drawling Southern cadence as Mr. Thurston. He gives them his time first and turns to deal with Amelie last, but regards her with a smile.
“And what can I do for you, Miss Savard?”
Amelie: Amelie figures (or at least hopes) that Mr. Thurston will pay attention to his class before seeing her. She returns the man’s smile and gives him a nod of greeting before getting down to business.
“Actually, Mr. Thurston, I wanted to ask you about the Malveaux family. Vera Malveaux spoke during our orientation this year, and I find myself looking for ways of introducing myself to her in regards to her charities and rumors about a member of her family being a fencing enthusiast.”
GM: “Slow down, dear, don’t set your cart before the horse,” Mr. Thurston chuckles. “What’s this you’d like to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about? Volunteering at one of the family’s charities?”
Amelie: Amelie clears her throat and feels a little sheepish. “Pardon, sir. I’ve just had a fire lit under me recently. Her charities are one thing, yes. But I’m also interested in her scholarships and this fencing business. I only have one year with you, I need to pad my resume for college. I’m aiming for Tulane.”
GM: “Tulane’s a good school,” Mr. Thurston nods. “There’s a fair number of girls here who apply to it. They like staying where they grew up. A lot of them get in pretty easily.” He smiles again. “Perhaps the AC’s getting to me instead of the summer heat, dear, but I’m afraid I don’t ken what you want to speak with Mrs. Malveaux about. What’s this about fencing business?”
Amelie: Amelie slows down a bit. She explains what the guidance counselor told her and how she needs to have achievements on her college application to Tulane. She briefly touches on her fencing history and emphasizes how speaking to Vera Malveaux personally about the woman’s charities, awards, and grants might coincide well with her own craftsmanship skills. Volunteers were one thing, but not even philanthropic organizations get skilled labor without paying for it. A championship title for a sport in Louisiana could also be priceless.
GM: Mr. Thurston is still puzzled by what exactly Amelie wants to talk with Mrs. Malveaux about. Does she want the woman’s assistance, somehow, in winning a championship? Does she want to apply for some of the Malveaux family’s scholarships? Does she want to take commissions from the family, since she’s mentioned being a craftswoman?
Amelie: Commissions aren’t exactly the right words. Amelie wants to offer herself for free. But she also wants to offer her services in such a way that Vera Malveaux will write her a letter of recommendation. The Malveaux matriarch is big on art museums, and Amelie has experience and skills in antique restoration. So she wants to meet with Vera, offer her skills, and put it down as volunteer work. She also hopes to get in good with the family, use that as a kick-off point to apply for their higher education scholarships, and off-handedly ask about the rumors that one of the Malveauxes was a fencer. Like the counselor said, ‘state finalist’ looks good on a college resume. Amelie believes that she and Vera can come to an advantageous agreement, which could spread her name among the city’s old money families while also helping her get into college.
GM: “See there, Ms. Savard? Slow and steady does it,” Mr. Thurston chuckles once Amelie has explained herself.
Amelie: “Sorry, sir. I think I may have just gotten nervous about wasting your time,” she apologizes.
GM: “Always better to err in assuming someone’s time is valuable, dear. You heard my lecture during first period, after all,” Mr. Thurston chuckles.
“But don’t fret. I know Mrs. Malveaux from my time at the bank.” Whitney Bank has always been ‘the’ bank in his classes. “I reckon I could pass along what you’ve had to say. What’s a phone number or email she can reach you at?”
Amelie: Amelie quickly takes out a pen and paper to jot down her a phone number and email address. She has a lucky habit of making professional-sounding addresses.
GM: Mr. Thurston tucks the note into his jacket’s breast pocket. “All right, my dear, I’ll give Mrs. Malveaux a call. You go on out and enjoy the sun, now. It’s a glorious afternoon.”
Amelie: “Yes, sir.” Amelie excuses herself after thanking the man for his generosity a few more times, then reluctantly heads out into the day. She’d wanted to avoid this. She’s been avoiding it all day.