Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

“So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”
“More steel than satin.”

Caroline Malveaux to Amelie Savard

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s deliberately slower than normal route under the district’s majestic live oaks is interrupted by a phone call. The caller ID reads ‘unknown.’

Amelie: Amelie pauses and steps under the shade of a tree to answer. “Hello?”

Caroline: “Ms. Savard?” answers an unfamiliar female voice. There’s a clipped tone to it that reminds her slightly of her more entitled classmates. But with a finer edge. If they’re in process, this sounds closer to the finished product of what they’ll become.

Amelie: “Speaking. Can I help you?”

Caroline: “I rather suspect it’s the opposite,” the voice replies in an amused tone. “I heard you were asking about me.”

Amelie: “I’ve asked about a few people in the last few days. Can you please specify?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Caroline Malveaux speaking. Something about fencing and sword-making?”

Amelie: “OH! Yes, that’s—wow, news travels fast. I didn’t ask about you specifically, ma’am, just chasing a rumor about a Malveaux being a state fencing champion. Apologies if it was concerning to you.”

Caroline: Caroline’s stomach falls out at the mention of her old fencing record. She forgot how uncomfortable this topic makes her. ‘State champion’ indeed.

Caroline: There’s silence on the other end for a moment, but only just, before a light laugh sounds.

“You must be new to New Orleans, Ms. Savard. The only thing around here that travels faster than gossip and news has a pair of jet engines on it.”

Amelie: “I grew up idolizing New Orleans. It’s easy to forget how small it is. Which is a reason for my asking about you. I heard you won a state championship in Louisiana despite me not able to find a state fencing league?”

Caroline: “There’s a high school league and championship,” Caroline answers. “It’s USFA sanctioned but not rated, might be the cause of the confusion. It’s also not as large as you might like—mostly a few private schools and academies. Winning here is mostly an invitation to attend a regional event.”

There’s a pause.

“That was a few years ago, of course.”

Caroline: Talking about her old fencing career makes her remember how excited she was when she closed out that championship match. How confident she’d been to go to regionals. And why not? Nerea certainly expected her to clean house.

It leaves a bitter taste in her mouth to say that was ‘a few years ago.’

Amelie: “Did you attend McGehee, ma’am?”

Caroline: “You’re making me feel older than my mother. Caroline, please,” the voice replies with a mild laugh. “But no, I went to St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge. Closer to the legislature for my father.”

Amelie: “Sorry! Caroline. You can call me Amelie. Sorry I assumed, I’m not sure of the relation, but Vera Malveaux spoke at our school as a former student. As for the ‘making swords’ part, I was going to approach your family about your art and history charities. I’m a historical craftsman, you see, I have a lot of restoration experience. I wanted to offer my services as a volunteer.”

Caroline: Caroline avoids scoffing at the high school girl’s claim.

Caroline: “You’re attending McGehee but have ‘a lot’ of experience?” Caroline asks, amused.

Amelie: “This is the only year I’ve attended. I worked in a family artisan-ship since I was around five years old, metallurgy, leather tailoring, and wood-working. Savard Swordsmith, in the village of Biccoline, if you’d like to Google it. It’s since shut down unfortunately.”

Caroline: Then what the hell are you doing at McGehee? Caroline can’t help but wonder.

She idly plugs ‘Biccoline’ into a search engine and scans results as she talks.

Caroline: “It sound as though you’ve lived quite an interesting life,” Caroline replies. “What brings you to New Orleans?”

Amelie: There’s a pause. “Interesting lives have road-bumps. Like I said though, I’ve idolized New Orleans since I was young. I’ve lived here with my aunt the past month.”

Caroline: Caroline is only half listening as she reads the results on her Sunpad. Her brow furrows the further she does.

‘Idolized’ jumps out at her. Caroline resists a laugh at it.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Caroline: “That’s some aunt to secure you a place at McGehee,” Caroline replies pleasantly.

Amelie: There’s no pause this time. “She’s been incredible, yes. Especially in putting up with me. I’m planning on paying back her costs as well, which means college and a revival of my work. Do you mind if I ask you about your mother? I’m afraid I don’t have a full family picture beyond your… aunt? Vera Malveaux?”

Caroline: “She is. My favorite aunt,” Caroline quips.

Caroline: Whatever her personal feelings about Vera, family problems and conflicts stay inside the family.

Still, it gives her an opportunity. Bicolline. The more she reads, the more confused she gets.

Who the hell pulled strings to get this girl into McGehee?

Caroline: “And what about yours?” she asks. “Do you love her or hate her for getting you into McGehee? Aunt Vera talks about it all the time. She said it was quite challenging.”

Amelie: Amelie is a bit off-put by the question’s rather personal phrasing but she brushes it off. “Academically, I’m handling AP classes just fine. It’s not difficult for me at all. High society, no offense, is the only real obstacle I’m facing. I’m not exactly Southern belle material.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at the tail end of that statement.


Caroline: “So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”

Amelie: “More steel than satin.”

Caroline: “And yet it doesn’t sound like you’ve found them particularly soft or flexible,” Caroline muses.

Amelie: “Satin is usually used to hide things,” she muses.

Caroline: “In any case, you wanted to volunteer with various charities my aunt runs in some capability. Why don’t we schedule a sit-down over lunch to talk over some options. How does later this afternoon work for you?”

Amelie: The thought of an actual sit-down with a Malveaux is a surprise—but a very, very welcome one. Meeting for a talk in public doesn’t sound too dangerous, either.

“Yes! Definitely yes. That works perfectly for me.”

Caroline: “Excellent. Do you know where Avo is?”

Amelie: “The name rings bells, I can find where it is. Would you like to meet there?”

Caroline: “I’ll make a reservation for today in an hour. Late lunch.”

Amelie: “I’ll make sure I look satin. Thank you again, Caroline, this is amazing of you.”

Caroline: “It’s only lunch, and the least I can do for someone that wants to get involved and give back. Too many young people today are happy to sit on the sidelines.” Amelie can almost picture her reading the response off of a note card.

Amelie: Amelie listens and nods. The response might sound robotic, but if she can impress Caroline, it’ll be a huge boon.

“Thank you for this chance, Caroline. Give my regards to your aunt as well, I’m sure I caused you both trouble in my asking around.”

Caroline: “Hopefully not,” Caroline replies cheerfully. “I haven’t heard of any yet. But I’ll see you there. The reservation will be under Malveaux.”

Amelie: “Perfect. I’ll see you then! Have a great weekend.”

Caroline: “Until then,” Caroline replies, ending the call.

Caroline: There’s something there under the surface, Caroline muses as she tucks her phone away. Family feud?

She can hardly resist digging.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie takes a deep breath in and out. She feels like she should be doing a back flip as she starts walking again and categorizes the work she has pictures online for her restoration jobs as she heads towards home. She peeks over the fence to see if her aunt’s car is parked in the driveway.

She hopes it’s not.

GM: Amelie does not see her aunt’s BMW parked behind the cast-iron fence that surrounds the pillared, neoclassical house. The garden’s palm trees, so still in the morning’s heat, rustle against a faint breeze that feels like paradise in the so-humid weather. Sweat is already trickling down Amelie’s back from the short walk. Despite her teachers’ talk about the ‘glorious’ day, though, clouds seem to be moving in overhead.

Amelie: The house is probably empty, then. Amelie slips inside and up to her room to get battle ready. She showers and pulls on some loose-fitting cashmere sweatpants, a low-cut black top, sneakers, and the surprisingly functional leather jacket she got during her outing with Kristina. Just a quick zip and she can imagine herself skidding across any surface without an issue.

The equipment she’s bringing along is fairly simple. She slides one folding knife in her pocket, conceals another one in an offhand pocket on her bag, and hides the last one under her bra strap. She pockets the mace and miniature prybar, then looks through the rest of her backpack’s contents to make sure she’s got everything ready and waiting. The last items she adds are another set of clothes to change into for her meeting with Caroline. She doesn’t want to come back to her aunt’s house again if she can help it.

She slings the backpack over her shoulder and makes sure her phone is fully charged before sliding it into her pocket. She looks herself over in the mirror and takes a deep bracing breath before heading back out the door. A simple note remains behind on the kitchen counter for her aunt.

See you tomorrow. Wish me luck in the haunted house.

GM: The house is silent and still as Amelie ventures inside. No one disturbs her when she gathers her weapons for the far from mundane-feeling slumber party. The shards of broken plate from her morning fight with her aunt are gone when she ventures into the kitchen to write her note. The well-furnished house looks as ready to entertain guests as it ever does. No evidence remains of the hurtful words spoken not so many hours ago.

But the memory lingers.

Amelie: Amelie is glad she doesn’t have to pick up the plate’s pieces. She’s also glad she had trouble eating more than half a piece of toast, so that was the only thing her aunt had to clean up.

But the memory covers the kitchen like a queasy film. She only stays as long as she has to. The last item she takes is a box of salt from the pantry, which she places in her bag before she gets going out the door.

GM: Amelie walks past old Colonial, Greek Revival, Italian, and Victorian houses with their white Corinthian pillars and wrought- or cast-iron fences. Classical sculptures depict capering nymphs, satyrs, and dolphins at play. Cicadas buzz as wind rustles through the palm trees and soaring live oaks that give the Garden District part of its name. The occasional lawnmower buzzes along, leaving the unmistakable scent of freshly-cut grass in its wake. Sprinklers steadily whir as they water the bright green lawns and beds of lilies, roses, and creamy white magnolias. There are are only a few slow-passing cars, picture-snapping tourists, and odd pedestrians out today. No one interrupts Amelie’s solitude along her walk.

She remembers first seeing the picturesque neighborhood past the back window of Oscar’s limo, and commenting how she’d never been to a neighborhood this nice where people were allowed to live in the buildings. She remembers, too, the police and their dogs patrolling the edge of the district. She remembers showing up late, sweaty, and smelly to class. She remembers all those girls in the halls and cafeteria, so much prettier than she is, following her with their silently laughing eyes. She remembers them finally saying what they really thought when there was a bathroom stall’s wall between them. She remembers Ms. Perry saying she’d broken off her engagement, Ms. Ward telling her off in front of the whole class, and Mrs. Flores canceling class on a ‘casual Friday’ because of the leg her husband maimed.

She remembers looking at the student government election posters between Susannah Kelly, who has managed to avoid dancing with her even after two weeks of classes, and the girl who gave her false directions to Sarah Whitney’s class, who the posters said was named Cecil Lancaster. She remembers Rachel’s stories about Rebecca Whitney, killed in the prime of her life by a drunk driver, and Lottie B., raped and murdered in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car.

The Garden District looks as gorgeous as it did when she first arrived in the city. But more and more, that charming exterior seems merely a facsimile. Amelie cannot help but wonder how much darkness is festering behind the doors of each of those old homes, which has had so long to rot and putrefy in the balmy summer heat.

The Dixie sun shines overhead, bright, fat, and yellow against the blue sky and gathering white clouds. Its heat is already making Amelie start to perspire under her leather jacket.

But the brighter the light, the starker the shadow.

Amelie: The architecture once made her knees weak. The phone call with Caroline made her elated. But the district and its historic houses feel more like a well-made Disneyworld exhibit than the revered old buildings they are—or should be. Just peel back the paint. It’s likely caked in mold and holes, but if you keep painting, it looks just fine.

Her ride to the city is still very clear in her mind, but now it feels like it was foreshadowing. The freeway: dark on one side, bright on the other, separating the city’s haves from the have-nots. Their positions feel reversed now. Police and their vicious dogs keep out blacks and derelicts, but how many people are happy and good on the dark side, and how many are miserable and rotten in the bright side?

Her memories of school are much more clear-cut, too. It’s not really that different from a public school. Girls are too cowardly to say anything to her face and laugh behind her back. The only thing that makes it worse than her old school is the damned skirt and how exposed it makes her feel. It’s a relief when the fabric stroking against her legs re-affirms she’s wearing the pants in her relationship with the world again. Her tank top shows off the strong definition of her collarbone.

Rachel’s stories are harder to shake off, though. Every time she thinks about Lottie, raped to death in the backseat of her sweet sixteen birthday car, maybe in this very neighborhood, it makes her blood boil. She wishes the people who harmed her suffered more. But that sorrowful train of thought only brings her back to her two favorite teachers.

She tries to push it out of her mind as she rests in the streetcar and lays her jacket on her lap. It’s the first time she can remember letting her scar breathe in New Orleans. The straps of her low top don’t hide the splotch of boiled-looking skin that’s several shades darker than the rest of her body. The scar tissue starts at her broad and strong left shoulder before vanishing down her back. There’s another deeply curved gouge on her forearm, and a third, smaller scar on her equally broad and strong right shoulder. She doesn’t even remember where she got that one.

Amelie isn’t beautiful. She knows she’ll only ever be able to halfway pass for it in clothes that more fully cover her body. But she’s never lacked for self-confidence. She’s proud of her body—marks, muscle, and all.

More steel than satin.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Amelie follows Magazine Street’s rows of shops, restaurants, and art galleries down to their near-terminus in Riverbend’s West Riverside neighborhood. Compared to the Garden District’s ages-old grandeur and verdant greenery, West Riverside merely feels well-to-do, though still far removed from Oscar’s ghosts.

When Amelie looks up her destination on her phone, she finds that Avo is a chef-owned Italian restaurant from New Orleans-born chef Nick Lama, a third-generation Sicilian. “Avo” is an Italian word that translates as ‘grandfather’ or ‘ancestor.’ The menu description says that it’s inspired by family recipes but served with a fresh perspective. The food is Italian-focused, but many ingredients are Southern-grown and locally harvested.

The restaurant’s interior isn’t too full during the post-lunch and pre-dinner hour when Amelie arrives. Attire is business casual. A smiling hostess greets and promptly escorts to her to Caroline’s table.
Caroline: She finds ‘Caroline’ seated at a small corner table in the open-air courtyard, which guests have largely vacated by this time. The post-lunch, pre-dinner shift that waiters call ‘the run’ from 2 to 5 tends to be any restaurant’s least busy time.

The woman Amelie is led to is framed by an ivy-colored brick wall and doesn’t look that much older than she is. She’s pale, thin, and even seated, Amelie can tell that the green-eyed blonde is tall.

She looks up from her phone as she sees the hostess arrive with Amelie and her face lights up with a smile that showcases perfect teeth, but more than anything else, sets her apart from Amelie’s classmates. Their manufactured smiles were never so clean and seemingly genuine. She wears an expensive-looking white blouse and a long flowing cobalt skirt leading to open-toed heels. Long hair runs (seemingly) free without seeming to fall over her face.

The Malveaux woman sets her phone down on the wooden tabletop as she takes in Amelie’s approach. She already has a condensation-beaded glass of water and half-empty glass of tea with several lemon wedges crammed into it. A small salad is set in front of her. A fork rests on the plate, but the meal is seemingly little-touched. Goat cheese, asparagus, and strawberries are immediately in evidence.

Amelie: Amelie uses the 30-minute trip by public transit to go over her old social media accounts and save some pictures of her best works for Caroline to swipe through. She feels as judged and out of place as always when she asks to be taken to the Malveaux table, but expects more of the same from Caroline.

The Canadian transplant is shorter than the Malveaux heiress by a few inches but quite a bit thicker. Her shoulders are strong and wide, and there’s a very noticeable tension in the way she moves that betrays her fitness and thick muscle mass. She’s refreshed herself in a public bathroom and changed into the business casual clothes she researched for the occasion: a simple flowy button-down, brown slacks, and fashionable belt too long to sit simply tied on her hip, which is obviously its purpose. Her hair is very short, very thick, and very black. It’s obviously brushed but is perhaps hard to manage.

She stays standing when she approaches Caroline’s table and offers a hand. Her arm is covered in small, old-looking scars, but her palm looks free of callouses.

“Caroline, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m amazed you wanted to meet me so quickly.”

Caroline: The Malveaux woman looks Amelie up and down as she approaches, but the smile doesn’t slip until Amelie offers a hand for a handshake. Her smile turns towards wry amusement as she regards it, but she rises and sets aside the napkin in her lap without haste. There’s a flowing grace to her movements as she rises combined with an ease and comfort not only in the location, but in her own skin.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

Her grip is firm, and as she looks down on Amelie from a standing position, their difference in height is made all the plainer by the three and a half inches Amelie spots to her heels. Caroline quickly disengages from the handshake as she retakes her seat with that same elegant and flowing grace.

“Please join me, Amelie. I hope you haven’t already eaten,” she offers with a hand, amusement still present in the half-smile on her face.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her mouth shut as she observes Caroline’s change in expression. She watches the older woman rise over her in her heels, but matches the handshake’s firmness all the same. Caroline’s graces aren’t lost on her, either. They also don’t surprise her given the sport they share a history with. The Malveaux woman’s confidence in her movements has a visible edge over the post-adolescent’s, though, especially where that sense of comfort in one’s skin is concerned.

Amelie takes a seat once she has Caroline’s blessing and shakes her head. “No, I haven’t. You caught me right out of school, actually. I hope this isn’t imposing too much on your schedule. I imagine you’ve more important things you’d like to keep your attention on. I promise I won’t keep you.”

Caroline: “You hardly imposed at all, I had an opening this afternoon.” She regards the dykish youth. “You have my attention at least as long as it takes me to enjoy lunch. So tell me, Amelie,” (is there just the slightest of hitches on the use of her first name now or is Amelie’s mind racing after those taunting girls in the bathroom?), “about yourself, that is. You mentioned recently moving here from Biccoline, enrolling in McGehee at your aunt’s insistence, and some experience as an ‘historical craftsman’?”

She idly spears a strawberry and piece of cheese together on a fork as she talks.

Amelie: Amelie listens intently, her eyes and brain laser-focused on Caroline’s words. This is a rare chance to impress people from the Malveaux family. However middling their money actually is, they are still the big players in New Orleans.

Caroline’s rather terse mention of ‘at least as much time as it takes me to enjoy lunch’ makes Amelie change gears. She takes her napkin and uses it to wipe clean her phone’s screen before she hands it over, allowing their heiress to swipe any which way.

It’s a collection of antiques. Most of the ‘befores’ look decrepit and damaged, while the ‘afters’ look ancient and full-functioning. The pictures include brilliant chandeliers, historically accurate furniture, and even a younger Amelie with her father, standing proudly on a fully restored carriage. The dykish-looking girl’s hair is in a ponytail, but one can tell it nearly reaches the middle of her back. Her hands and arms are still covered in band-aids.

“I’ll be quick, then. As old as New Orleans is, Quebec City is almost 200 years older. My shop got a lot of contracts thanks to this. What I compiled there was all my personal projects, or things entrusted to me by my family business. Restoration, replication, custom work. Stonework is limited as the area was slow to build or gain any culture, thanks to brutal winters, but I can do that as well. I’m looking to pad my resume to attend Tulane University through volunteering these skills. My pedigree is nonexistent, and grades alone can’t get you into Tulane. Your aunt spoke at my school, and I think I can be a great asset to her charities. New Orleans history is a massive passion of mine, as well, so I can assure authenticity in my work.”

Caroline: Caroline wryly accepts the phone as she chews, idly swiping through the pictures in silence. After several swipes she sets the phone down on the table closer to Amelie.

“You said you only arrived in New Orleans a month ago, right? And your long-term goal is to start a business?”

She continues after a momentary pause, “If you’ll allow me to offer some advice, this,” she gestures to the phone, “isn’t really how business is done in the Big Easy.” She elaborates, “Your work looks impressive, at least based on the pictures of work done in your parents’ shop, but there’s both a dozen hustlers on every corner flashing their goods at people, and a certain lack of… je ne sais quoi.” The French rolls off her tongue effortlessly.

“Relationship, I suppose. Someone else might call it intimacy.” She spears greens and asparagus on her fork without looking while she speaks, her attention on Amelie. The smile hasn’t left her face, but there’s a slightly exasperated quality to it.

“People in New Orleans, they deal with people. With people they know, or that others they know, know. It’s all, in fact, in who you know. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best in the world, you won’t ever get a shot in this city without a personal relationship.”

She seems to consider saying more, but bites it back.

Amelie: “Pour danser dans un hall, vous devez d’abord avoir un pied dans la porte.” Despite Caroline’s fluency, French is indeed Amelie’s first language. (“To dance in the hall, you must first get your foot in the door.”)

“I am staying in a bank-owned haunted house tonight, only because the person I’m doing the project it involves is family friends with the Whitney family. The only reason I’m sitting here with you is because Mr. Thurston put in a call for me. It’s a lesson I’ve not known long, I’m still learning. If I can be candid with you, Caroline, I’d just keep making my weapons and armor if I could. My pieces are works of art, they sell for thousands. My magnum opus could cut through a fence and the person behind it. But carrying swords is illegal, so I couldn’t bring it. I’d open my own fencing class to bring state fencing to Louisiana, too. But it’s like you said, people in New Orleans deal with people. I need people behind me here.”

The young woman slowly leans forward and looks seriously at the sweet tea their waitress brought her. “I know how I look, and how people see me. I plan to grow my hair back out even because of it. And I’m sorry if you felt like I’m trying to pitch at you, but this lunch is the equivalent of a duchess talking to a peasant. There is no reason for you to start a relationship with me, even if I offer my work for free. But I have to try. New Orleans is a lot to love and she’s slow to trust. But I’m here to try to put that foot in the door.”

Caroline: Caroline continues to pick at her salad, eyes on Amelie but fork continuing to collect greens, as she lets the other ‘girl’ say her peace.

“I did a little bit of research on where you came from,” she begins mildly. “I’m sure there’s quite an adjustment moving from a place where you grew up in which any kind of eccentricity is welcomed and even celebrated, to McGehee.”

She reaches out with her free hand to take up the phone again and resumes paging through the pictures. “And it must be equally difficult to have a passion most people don’t care about, or don’t understand. Or both.” She sighs several more images in and places the phone down again. “Did you really do all of this work?”

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet after her peace, letting Caroline thumb through things. “I can handle all that. McGehee or not, teen girls are the same everywhere. The passion is the hardest when I can’t pursue it,” she starts, taking her phone and putting it face down to the side.

“This is just the things I did without help. And only the restoration of antiques and a few examples of custom work. The only surviving piece of my weapons work is that magnum opus I told you about, and it’s at home. But yes. All of it is mine. I bleed for my work.”

The young woman reaches up and rubs her shoulder. Caroline might notice the fabric rests differently when she removes her hand. It’s like the skin is raised, and not unlike the skin on parts of her aunt’s face.

Caroline: Caroline chews on the comments and seems about to continue again when she instead simply gives a slight shake of her head. The smile doesn’t vanish, but perhaps recedes a bit.

Amelie: Amelie finds it hard to pin down the older woman’s motivations, but simply clears her throat and rights herself. “Do you like antiques yourself, Caroline?”

Caroline: The change of subject seems to set Caroline at ease. “My aunt will be dreadfully embarrassed, but I confess, I favor a more modern aesthetic. There can be beauty in older works, but I’m not one for nostalgia. More important than what something was is what it is, or what it does now. It’s not a particularly popular opinion in New Orleans though.”

Amelie: “I understand completely. Practicality. Vintage couches for instance are thin and uncomfortable, they don’t fit properly in a lot of instances, and can be rather delicate. Is that how your home is? I have yet to see any modern houses in the more wealthy parts of New Orleans.”

Caroline: “No, you wouldn’t really see most of them at all. After Katrina many got wise to the value of gated—and patrolled—communities. The decor at my house is more… mixed, though.”

Amelie: “Yes, it was rather shocking to see that. We’ve the same thing up north, but most are cheap and fake, and private security is usually hired. I live in the Garden District myself. You said you attended school in Baton Rouge, did you live here during Katrina?”

Caroline: “I was in Baton Rouge,” Caroline concedes, “but the family has always maintained homes in New Orleans to one extent or another. And it’s really a small circle in Louisiana. Everyone knows everyone. I actually had my débutante ball in New Orleans, just because it’s such a better venue.”

Amelie: “That’s true. I grew up idolizing this place, and it feels a lot bigger than it is. You’re a débutante though, that’s interesting! It’s so easy to think that making your debut is solely from movies and romantic classics. I imagine it comes with some great pressures, I hope you were able to enjoy the ball itself.”

Caroline: “When you’re in my position you either learn to enjoy the pressures or you learn to live in misery,” Caroline answers with some evident amusement.

Amelie: Amelie smiles a bit wider and nods. “That’s a good lesson to learn so early. Speaking of enjoyment, is that why you fenced?”

Caroline: “Youthful impetuousness,” Caroline laughs. “My gym teachers demanded I pick a sport. It was something that my father indulged perhaps a bit too long.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself and leans forward slightly. “I never had dreams of being a fencing champion, despite my mother being one. I never cared for the rules. I asked about it because a career councilor encouraged me to seek accomplishments. I’ve only got a year in McGehee. I have a lot of catching up to do. The moment you told me the league was just a high school low-ball league, I dropped that aspiration. It’s all to keep up the numbers of college applications at McGehee and to help my passion survive. And not to… embarrass the school with my impertinence. I understand my position.”

Amelie motions to Caroline. “Duchess.” She motions back to herself. “Smith.”

Caroline: Caroline taps her lips, a shadow of a smile remaining. “Well, that really cuts to the heart of it, doesn’t it?”

“Not embarrassing the school,” she clarifies after a moment. “I’m certain you have ample reason to think that many at McGehee are simply being bigots, but there’s something deeper at play, as deeply embedded in the culture here as beignets and Mardi Gras.”

“It’s the best school in the city. Maybe the best in the state. I once read an article that described it as ’ the débutante West Point.’ Everyone at McGehee succeeds. It’s a matter of pride. I know it is, certainly, to my aunt.”

There’s a gravity now to Caroline’s tone and expression that was absent before as they slip past small talk. “For you, that’s both a blessing and a curse.”

She pauses. “Do you understand what I’m getting at? Because it sounds to me as though you have two goals: getting into Tulane and setting your future on the path you want in the long term, and pursuing your passion. Those two things are not, unfortunately, both possible right now.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t flinch when the conversation finally comes to a head. She listens to Caroline lay things out and silently nods to a few of them. She doesn’t bother to mention how the United States’ capital of débutante life is in fact New York, where the Waldorf Astoria is. But she keeps her mouth shut until she’s addressed again.

“The first thing is my path to the second. Like you said, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Tulane is my best path forward to keep pursuing relationships with families in New Orleans, to establish myself with the old blood in Louisiana, and to build up my skills and knowledge over time. I’m looking to create a pedigree for myself that will keep that McGehee adage true, in the surest capacity I can without any of that old blood. Me asking Mr. Thurston to send a word along the Malveaux family was me trying to forge a relationship, in order to succeed. I’m sorry if there was a wire crossed about my fencing that was not conducive to that success. Vera Malveaux can rest assured that idea died in its crib.”

Caroline: “I’m certain she’ll be happy to hear that,” Caroline replies. “Because if you’re willing to play the game, as much as it may burn you, McGehee is of far greater advantage to you than your not at all inconsiderable talents.” She gestures to the phone.

GM: The pair’s waitress stops by. After asking, “How you ladies doing here?” and refilling their drinks, she asks if Amelie is “sure if all you want” is that glass of sweet tea.

Caroline: “The Tuna and Orzo is to die for,” Caroline offers.

Amelie: Amelie beams widely and thanks the waitress for the refill. “I’m just fine, thank you. I’ll take you up on that next time,” she assures, nodding and letting the waitress step away.

GM: The waitress, a black-haired woman with slight bags to her eyes who gave her name as Amanda, repeats she’ll be back later “just in case you change your mind” with another smile before heading off to another table.

Amelie: “As for the game, I don’t have the potential to reach very high very easily. I’m just looking for my niche, where those higher than me might find me useful. Like you said, modern household finery and antiques are a great taste in New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline firmly interjects before the waitress can leave that Amelie will have the Tuna and Orzo, and adds a glass of Far Niente chardonnay for herself.

GM: Amanda jots the order down and replies it’ll be “coming right up.”

Caroline: The débutante’s eyes linger as she departs before cutting back to Amelie.

“It’s considered rude not to at least put on the appearance of sharing a meal with someone. And she,” Caroline says, tilting her head towards the departing waitress, “is going to remember it because you’re snubbing her as well by taking up a seat she would otherwise be making money off of. You’ve been nothing but polite on the surface, Amelie, but it’s the little things you don’t even seem to realize you’re doing that are undermining you at every turn.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised when Caroline calls out to the woman and orders her something, but she understands the heiress’ rather terse logic. Tipping, however, is never a ‘no’ option for Amelie. Even if she only gets a diner coffee in the middle of the night, she always tips the waitress more than she’d get with 15% on a meal.

GM: Not that her present waitress (or Caroline) has any reason to expect such generosity.

Amelie: Still, the rest of Caroline’s argument is sound. “I’m sorry if I offended you, I’d thought it might seem rude to keep you anchored here while I eat. I agree with you, however. The little differences and niceties I miss have been making even McGehee difficult for me.”

Caroline: “Can I let you in on a secret?” Caroline asks, setting her fork down at last. “Most of us may be stuck up, arrogant, and proud, but we’re not going to do anything that blatantly showcases that.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile wanes just a bit, but stays pleasant as she hears the admission. “I imagine you have enough trouble without people pointing at that kind of behavior. Besides, devastating hurricanes, howling tourists, clashing cultures, a harsh history, I think Louisianans deserve a bit of pride.”

Caroline: A quick and forced smile. “Even so, the message, so it is not lost, is twofold: we’ll rarely reject you to your face, and we’re adept at honing our knives in the dark. That is where you’re bleeding, whether you realize it or not: in the places you can’t see.” She picks up her fork again, then sets it down. “And you must realize it on some level. So you want help.”

Amelie: Amelie’s smile on the other hand hasn’t changed, she keeps her pleasant expression on. These are all things she’s heard already, lessons she’s viscerally learned, some of them as early as last night in fact. “I do. And I do.”

Caroline: A moment of silence hangs in the air as the two women sit.

At last Caroline breaks it. “Tulane’s tuition and board runs over $60,000 a year. Do you have a plan for that, if you get in?”

Amelie: Amelie sips her tea and rests the glass back down on the table. “Grants, scholarships, my aunt is of no lean means. McGehee I think does work with me in this regard, most girls there may not have to go after those kinds of things.”

Caroline: “You might be surprised,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of more moderately wealthy families will pay out the nose to get their daughters to McGehee in the hope that the school and its connections will later defray the costs of college by helping them get a scholarship.”

“But that’s a secondary hurdle. Right now you’re trying to pad your package for admissions.” Caroline thinks for a moment, then offers a somewhat blunter answer than she normally might. “I don’t think my aunt would be interested in bringing you in to do antiques work. Beyond the headaches of bringing in a minor to work at all, there’s also the question of appearances and the skepticism that will come with the idea of putting a teenager on it—and yes, before you start, your work does look impressive. The age however is a massive impediment.”

“If your goal though is entirely focused on simply padding your package however, there are a few doors I can open for you. Tulane has large medical and legal ties—if you were willing to do an internship or volunteer program in either field, I might be able to find a spot for you. It probably wouldn’t be glamorous work, and obviously not what you want in the long term, but focusing on the major programs of the college would increase your chances. Alternatively, a STEM focus in general is always a positive—women in STEM fields is all the rage these days for admissions numbers.”

“There are also, likely, some volunteer opportunities I could point you at or open doors on that are tangentially, though not directly, related to your interests. For instance, working with one of the krewes. It’s not the greatest extracurricular itself, but might allow you to do some of the work you enjoy in a less… scrutinized environment while also potentially impressing others, and it shows specific ties to the city that are worth more than you might think for a school in the city. It’s more socially acceptable for a teenager to work on a krewe float and consumes, than it is to, say, be an antiques restorer, even if you might be doing similar things, depending on the krewe.”

“Of course, in all of these, in making any introduction or pulling any string, the concern remains the same. Whoever does so, no matter who the do so for, is putting their own credibility and reputation on the line for someone else. You’ve heard the expression ‘throwing good money after bad’, haven’t you?”

A moment passes.

“Thirty days,” she finally seemingly decides. “If you’re serious about not rocking the boat, trying to fit in more neatly, and about going to Tulane, take a month to sort yourself out. Style your hair. Play the game. And call me in thirty days. Do that and I’ll reach out to my aunt, or my own contacts, and we’ll see about what can be done to ‘pad’ your application before the January deadline.”

The heiress shrugs. “Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t mention that she’s actually twenty, but she supposes that’s a reasonable enough mis-assumption for someone who hears she’s in high school to make. Besides, she was waiting for something along those lines: for Caroline to give a definitive answer to her request for help. But what she wasn’t expecting was… this extent of it. The young woman’s eyes gradually get wider as she listens to the heiress’ words. She doesn’t answer the presumably rhetorical question on throwing money after rotten projects, but keeps quiet long enough to hear Caroline’s ultimatum. The hour she had to get ready for this meeting and travel here without a car hasn’t done her any favors, but she cedes the point and nods instead.

“I will! Working with the krewes, I can do a lot, and Tulane’s Engineering Physics is a perfect major for the STEM fields that I’d be thrilled to undergo! I’ll take the 30 days, you won’t be able to recognize me, I promise!”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “I hope so, but if not, ultimately it’s your decision. I’m offering only a path.”

Amelie: “You’re the first one to offer me a tangible path forward. It’s more than I could have hoped for.”

GM: The waitress returns with Amelie’s food. The light and refreshing-looking tuna and orzo salad is topped with with diced avocado, olives, and halved cherry tomatoes, as well as a layer of melted Parmesan cheese dolloped with honey and olive oil. A sharper smell of lemon juice, basil, and red wine vinegar also wafts from the food.

The young woman also refills Amelie’s sweet tea and Caroline’s wine. She seems to particularly dote on the Malveaux heiress’ service and laughingly remarks to Amelie that she’s “glad to see you eating something” before heading off to another table.

Amelie: Amelie beams down at the food and thanks the waitress. She lets her dote on Caroline while brushing her palm up from the dish, smelling it without putting her dumb face in there. The first small spoonful is magic and she hums in approval to herself.

Caroline: Caroline smiles again as she takes a sip of her recently arrived wine. “It’s good to have a way forward,” she agrees. She purses her lips in amusement. “Just out of curiosity, did you have much experience with fencing?”

Amelie: The question about fencing makes Amelie nod and swallow quickly to answer. “Lots. It was a big outlet for me. My mother competed, even placed nicely in the world fencing championships in her youth. We’re both saber fencers, Spanish and Swiss hybrid stylings. She also had me learn a lot of other types of non-competitive fencing. I never ended up competing, however.”

Caroline: “Really? Saber? The world’s a small place. What’s her name?”

Amelie: “Saber yourself, as well? It is the sword of the South, after all. Her name was Abigail Savard.”

Caroline: “The name is vaguely familiar, but I’ll have to look her up. And yes, saber. The rest seemed derivative to me. And slow.” The last is offered with a grin. The window to land a touch in response is .12 seconds for the point to be counted.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but grin right back. “I miss that. My mother always described it as two tigers sizing each other up. The first one to pounce exposes his neck, but the one not to act is dead without perfect timing to grasp it. I always loved the chase. Tell me, have you ever tried traditional saber fencing? With blunted sabers instead of sport sabers?”

Caroline: “Only playfully with Nerea a few times. Daniel—our coach—thought it was a waste of time. He was much more focused on chasing medals than historical roots.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a lot more fun than the medal chasing. Sampling how other people millennia ago fought their peers, won renown, won kingdoms. El Cid, Pepe, the Landskrecht, the Hussars. I love to romanticize them.”

Caroline: “Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways,” Caroline offers, less enthusiastically. “What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Amelie: “That’s the tigers,” Amelie reminds, her smile spreading wider. “No whispers behind backs, no brand names, no clout, no nepotism. It feels like everything else falls away. Without helmets especially, just keeping that eye contact.”

“I don’t mean to infer anything, but it’d be fun to pick up a saber and have a few rounds with you one day. I expect to lose! But it’d be fun,” she laughs.

Caroline: “There is a certain simplicity to it,” Caroline agrees, laughing lightly. Her tone grows less cheerful as she continues, “But I hung that up a while back.”

Amelie: “Because it isn’t very ladylike?”

Caroline: “We all have to play by the rules, Amelie.”

Amelie: “Rules are indeed a prerequisite for success. Even New Orleans’ famous grave-digging duelist Jose Llulla never shot a man in cold blood.”

Caroline: “You’re just a font of New Orleans history,” Caroline replies, perking up a bit at the change of subjects. “Did you visit often as a child with your aunt or something?”

Amelie: “No, I wish I did. When I was little, my aunt visited us for Christmas. She bought me a book of New Orleans history. I fell in love. I still have that book.”

Caroline: “With a book,” Caroline replies somewhat skeptically, but she brushes it off. “What brings you to New Orleans then? The fantastic school system?”

Amelie: The smile on Amelie’s face for the entirety of the lunch hitches, her brow creasing despite her mouth still being curved upwards. “You’ll notice there’s a lot of ‘was’ since we’ve been talking, instead of is. What ‘is’, however, has been amazing. New Orleans has been dizzying and I’ve still got so much to see.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, that was insensitive. I’m sorry for your loss,” Caroline replies after a moment.

Amelie: “It’s nothing you should trouble yourself over. My aunt has been amazing, school’s been wonderful, the city is a dream. I’m having lunch with a Malveaux, for goodness’ sake.”

Caroline: “Community outreach, my father would say. Remember to vote Malveaux… or at least have your aunt vote Malveaux. What does she do, by the way? She must be pretty successful to send you to McGehee.”

Amelie: “I don’t know if I qualify for voting, with my dual citizenship. But remember when you said that more moderately wealthy families pay out the nose? It’s one of the reasons I’m gunning so hard for success. As for what she does, she’s friends with political consultants, so maybe I should ‘play the game’ and keep quiet,” she laughs. “I may just vote Malveaux though. I met your cousin, I think, and you just convince me further the family has good values.”

Caroline: “Oh, which one?”

Amelie: “I don’t remember his first name, forgive me. He’s a father at St. Louis Cathedral, if I don’t have my faces mixed up?”

Caroline: “Adam,” Caroline says with a smile. “Carrying on the family tradition. They say there’s always been a Father Malveaux.”

Amelie: “That’s a very noble tradition. He took my first confession in a year, he’s a fine clergyman.”

Caroline: “He takes after our uncle, the archbishop, like that.”

Amelie: Amelie raises her brows. “Archbishop, wow. Is he still here in New Orleans, as well?”

Caroline: “The Archbishop of New Orleans would be of little use elsewhere.”

Amelie: “I guess not. Though you went to school in Baton Rouge, and I’m not familiar with the American archdiocese, just thought I’d make sure. Are you a churchgoer yourself?”

Caroline: “Every Sunday,” Caroline replies between another drink. “And yourself, Amelie? You mentioned taking confession.”

Amelie: “I often went to confession, but I spent most weekends outside of town. There are unexpected loopholes to building a real church in a fake town. Now that I’m in New Orleans, I expect I’ll be attending masses regularly.”

Caroline: “That’s all too common,” Caroline replies. “Even here, most people want to fit their faith into a neat little convenient box. They forget their first duty is to God.”

Amelie: “God is treated a bit more casually in the north. My parents were rather secular, even. Seeing how fast everyone holds onto all their faiths here has been rather inspiring.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Most people claim a visit to New Orleans shakes their faith, rather than reinforces it. I’m certain both my uncle and my cousin would be thrilled to hear it has instead been a source of inspiration to some. Too often I fear they feel they are throwing sandbags against a sagging levee—though I suppose that’s been a problem for priests across the country for decades now as people convince themselves they’re better off without God.”

Amelie: “I think it’s a difficult situation. There’s an old saying; ’ Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions’. I think a lot of young people can see that, and mistake authority, that they think has failed them, as the fault of faith. And lean away from it instead of realizing their own personal faith. Even me, so romanticizing as I am of history, become disillusioned. But that’s not god, that’s the nature of men. I had a co-worker obsessed with Pascal.”

Caroline: “You can say that, but I think it’s an excuse. It’s easier to turn from God when you can villainize Him,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Isaiah,” Amelie recites, nodding. “I like to think faith means more when you can temper it. But you’re right that people do love their excuses.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “That’s actually an interesting translation. In the original Hebrew there are two words that are translated into evil in English. One is evil in the traditional sense of a bad thing, the other, which is used in that sentence is perhaps more neatly translated as calamity.”

Amelie: “That makes more sense. Light and dark are opposites, but evil isn’t the opposite of peace. Sometimes it’s uncomfortably close. Though I doubt that makes a difference to most people. Calamity is often a faith-shaker. Katrina was rough on New Orleans, for instance.”

Caroline: The heiress smiles. “Or a faith-maker. Really there are only two responses to hardship: to turn one’s face towards Him and seek an answer from God, or demand an answer of Him and turn away in anger when it is not what you wish. I don’t think any of us, whatever we might think, truly know how we’ll respond to true adversity until we face it.”

Amelie: Amelie can only match the smile, and nod. “There was once a bandit clan in Scotland from the 13th to the 17th centuries, one of their main families have a crest motto I enjoy for my own tacklings. Invictus maneo, ‘I remain unvanquished.’”

“Thanks to your generosity with your time. I think I avoided it here today, too.”

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

Amelie: Amelie changes back into her clothes for the slumber party and takes the streetcar to the Quarter. When the car comes to a stop at Canal at Carondelet, she steps off and starts walking. She carries her jacket to keep cool as she stares down the street. She still has time to kill before she heads to the LaLaurie house, starting with the 15-minute walk to the French Market.

Amelie feels like most people would expect her to feel some kind of connection with Joan of Arc, but the Maid of Orleans isn’t the kind of woman she aspires to be. Joan’s poor choice to stay with the rear guard during the retreat to Compiégne got her captured and ultimately burned alive.

joan-of-arc-statue.jpg But Joan remains a brilliant picture, and Amelie feels no small measure of wonder over how the girl was only a year younger than she is and still managed to do so much. She probably had accusations similar to ‘dyke’ thrown at her given the ages of marriage and childbearing at the time.

Amelie doesn’t run too far with that idea, however. She doesn’t want to project herself onto the figure as she stands and admires the French bronze workmanship.

GM: The inscription on the pedestal is a simple one:

Gift of the People of France

Amelie remembers reading a news story sometime over the past few weeks about the sword being stolen, and that not being the first time. There was another one about the statue being vandalized in response to political developments in France.

Despite not wishing to identify too personally with the historic figure, it is not lost on Amelie that the statues of Lee and Davis have not suffered the same indignities as the other ‘dykish’ young woman. And that she, like Amelie, may remain an outsider to certain circle of the city.

The walk to the French Market is a single block.

Amelie has long since looked up the article that describes the French Market as, ‘a market and series of commercial buildings spanning six blocks in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded as a Native American trading post predating European colonization, the market is the oldest of its kind in the United States. It began where Café du Monde currently stands and has been rebuilt and renovated a number of times.’

In person, the Market is all those things and a more. It runs along the Mississippi River at the edge of the French Quarter and is part flea market, part souvenir shop, and part art show. Tourists and residents alike browse the market’s stalls of T-shirts, spices, jewelry, seafood, candy, books, hats, home decor, keychains, and most anything else Amelie can probably think of, tucked away in some obscure kitschy stall. The smell of a hundred foods from spicy jambalaya to buttery fried shrimp to sugary pralines is thick in the air. Busking trombonists, accordianists, mimes, and other street performers move among the throngs of tourists to make a quick buck.

Amelie: Amelie tackles the French Market like a local, at least as much as she can while she marvels at all the stalls and everyone’s art and music. It’s good to spend the time before her big night just enjoying this. She walks along the grounds, sampling oysters, sweet tea, snack sized crawfish etouffee, and just basking in it all. She keeps an eye out for stranger vendors, looking for occult baubles, butterfly knives, and anything else that catches her eye as odd while sipping ice-cold sweet tea through a straw.

GM: Amelie finds no shortage of occult-themed knickknacks being hawked by the vendors. Among the items for sale are voodoo dolls, mojo wish beans, blessed chicken feet, dragons’ blood incense, obsidian scrying orbs, mojo bags, Turkish evil eye amulets, Buddha charms, alligator skulls, Florida water, roots and herbs, love potion #9 oil, and many others. A hundred chants, claims, and boasts from “curse your enemies!” to “protect your loved ones!” and “find true love!” fill Amelie’s ears.

Amelie: Amelie goes from stall to stall looking for anything that catches her eye. She pauses after a while by a random one.

“Excuse me? Do you know Mrs. Tantsy, at all?”

GM: “Not personally,” answers the vendor, a middle-aged and dark-skinned man in a sleeveless red shirt who’s selling hand-made wire fish statues. “She runs a voodoo store off Royal Street.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the man as she looks over his statues. “I’ve been there, yeah. Does she have a reputation around here? She was really mysterious when I was there.”

GM: The man shrugs. “Mysterious as any store owner in the Quarter, I guess. The voodoo thing’s just a racket.”

Amelie: “She’s pretty theatrical. Mysterious might cover it too,” Amelie muses, looking over one of his smaller fish baubles. “These are really nice. Have you bee making them long?”

GM: “Thank you ma’am, and no I haven’t,” the vendor smiles. “Two or so months. I’ve worked on Indian suits for a while longer. Thought I’d give my hand a try with wire ’stead of feathers for a bit.”

Amelie: Amelie catches the man’s smile, enjoying the talk. “You’re good! You know, if you collect can tabs, you can clip off the bit that sticks out at the bottom, snip the top of the big hole, and make chain fabric from them. Cheap, pretty, easy. If you ever get tired of being so good at making these fish, that is.”

GM: “Can tabs. Now I will have to remember that one,” the vendor remarks. “I know a girl who likes to work with bottle caps, make little model chairs with bent wire for the legs. Lot you can make with somebody’s garbage.”

Amelie: “One man’s trash. Little tables and chairs sounds fun though,” Amelie muses. “I should get going though, sir. Can I buy one of these smaller fish?”

GM: “S’what they’re here for,” the man laughs, gesturing across the table for Amelie to take her pick.

Amelie: She picks out one that’s caught her fancy and pays the man, thanks him for the talk, and offers a handshake before she heads off. It’s a cute and simple little thing. Better good luck charm than anything in the occult-themed stalls. She slips it into her pocket and heads off.

It’s time to scout that house.

Time to spend a night in hell.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria I
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria II

Previous, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I
Next, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie XI

Previous, by Caroline: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I
Next, by Caroline: Story Two, Caroline I

Story One, Victoria I

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”
Victoria Wolf

Monday morning, 27 August 2007

GM: “So, first, why don’t you tell the person you’re sitting by something interesting you know about the school.”

Sylvie doesn’t think she’s seen a sadder icebreaking prompt before, but that’s the one she gets from her Sociology 101 class at Lafayette U. The professor smiles dimly at all the students spread across the auditorium-style classroom.

The dark-haired girl she’s sitting next to looks more like she feels sorry for the old man, than anything else.

Victoria: Sylvia St. George envisioned the glitz and glam of academia as something more…


Yes, she has her Calculus II, as she placed out of the first. She has her Chemistry 101, as all first-year engineering students are required to take. She has this, and she has that, and she has the other class, and then she has her electives, and then she has…

This class. Sociology 101. How-to-society-for-dummies.

Boring class. Boring professor. Boring people.

Is she boring? She’s here, too.

She looks to the girl beside her, offering her a thin-lipped smile, her teeth barely showing through; a polite smile, vice one of warmth.

“Something interesting about the school…”

Not even a hello.

“…why don’t you go first?”

GM: “Well, they say the girls’ dorms are haunted,” smiles the girl. She’s got dark brown hair, brown eyes, and rectangular classes. She’s shorter than Sylvie, though most women are. Mary wound up giving her hand-me-downs from Julius after she hit her puberty growth spurt; and everyone else got her hand-me-downs.

“The story goes that back in the ‘60s, an out-of-commission elevator fell on a girl’s neck and decapitated her.”

“Ever since then, they’ve sealed it off behind a steel door. But some students say they’ve seen a girl with ’60s hair and clothes waving at them.”

Victoria: Sylvia listens intently. The class is no longer boring. She nods, hanging on her every word.

“Have you gone in?”

GM: “Girls’ dorms, remember?” smirks the girl. “I live there.”

Victoria: She rolls her eyes.

“I meant the elevator.

GM: “Ohh, sorry. No, I haven’t! I’m not even sure where it is.”

Victoria: She would much rather go looking for it than sit through the rest of this class, but nor does she want to squander her chance.

“I wonder where it is, and where she’s seen.”

“How did you learn that?”

GM: “I grew up here,” says the girl. “And I’m studying Louisiana history. So, kinda my job! Well, degree.”

Victoria: “You grew up in the girls’ dormitory?”

She’s teasing, but her faux-serious sense of humor may not betray it.

GM: The girl smirks. "No, Lafayette. Though I dunno if there’d be much difference. I went to high school with at least half these people. "

Victoria: “Look at me,” she grins. “New one in town. I came here because I wanted to get away. Just not too far away.”

She holds out a hand.

“I’m Sylvia.”

GM: The girl shakes it. Like most girls’, her handshake isn’t very strong.

“I’m Anna May. Or, just Anna.”

“Where are you from, a small town?”

Victoria: “New Orleans. It’s a tiny ’burb. You might have heard of it, Miss History.”

GM: Anna laughs. “No, sorry, you’ll have to tell me about it.”

Victoria: “Maybe over lunch. We’re supposed to be talking about the school.”

She glances to the screen.

“A subject I’m sorely lacking on,” she laments.

A moment passes.

“Aha! I’ve got it. Bathrooms are the third door on the left from this room.”

GM: “Very helpful,” Anna says dryly.

She glances at the professor, who’s sitting behind his desk and looks half-asleep in his chair.

“I actually feel kinda sorry for Mr. Breaux. My dad knows him and he shoulda retired a while ago, but he got swindled a bunch of money around Katrina. So he has to keep working.”

Victoria: “Poor guy. At least the work for the course seems minimal, on both sides. Still, I’d rather have more challenging work for a better use of time.”

She shrugs.

“What now? Do we write a paper on bathrooms and dead girls?”

GM: “I think he wanted to do an icebreaker that also worked up some school spirit and it just… didn’t come together.”

Anna glances around. Most of the class is talking among themselves. One male student, eyeing Mr. Breaux, finally just gets up and walks out. The elderly professor doesn’t stop him, or even seem to notice him.

“Uhhh, good question. I hope he has a lesson plan?”

She smiles again and rolls her eyes.

“This is smaller-town Louisiana, anyway. What you moved out for.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“It doesn’t seem like he has much of a plan at all.”

It isn’t spoken with cruelty, but pity.

“Doesn’t seem so bad. Once you get past the murderous elevators.”

GM: “I’m surprised you moved out here,” says Anna, curious. “Most of the people here are from here, or the really small towns. And a lot of other people who go to college go to New Orleans, if they can.”

Victoria: “I guess you can say I’ve got a small town heart. Maybe.” She shrugs. “Like I said, I wanted to get away, but not too far.”

GM: “I guess that makes sense. But no, it’s not bad! Everyone who’s from here knows each other. Mrs. Remy, she teaches math if you have her, used to live next door to me.”

“And the dean is in the UDC with my mom.”

Victoria: Sylvie nods.

“Yeah, she’s teaching my calculus class. Wow—this is a small town. What’s the UDC?”

GM: “United Daughters of the Confederacy. They’re descendants of soldiers who fought in the War Between the States.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Something she might have known if she knew any of her ancestors.

“That’s never been my thing.”


“Is it fun?”

GM: “It is!” Anna nods. “It’s partly how I got into history. They do a lot of things, like hold memorial services or parades, or track family trees. And my dad’s involved in a reenactment society. They dress up like old soldiers and act out battles.”

Victoria: “That sounds fun!” she says, eyes lighting up at the reenactment. “Do you ever participate with your dad?”

GM: Anna looks a little glum. “They don’t like female actors.”

Victoria: Sylvie purses her lips.

“I suppose we’ll just have to join the Union.”

GM: “I did participate in one, story was that I was disguising myself as a boy to enlist. The actors were VERY serious about how my disguise had to be good enough that I fooled them, to be authentic. And a lot of them were worried it’d mean they’d get a ton more girls in disguise, if they allowed one.”

“They were also mad that I didn’t want to cut my hair, because that’s what a girl in disguise would’ve done.”

Victoria: “It’s your fault, isn’t it? You were supposed to enlist in laundry washing and sandwich making reenactment.”

GM: “Maybe I should have been a camp follower?” muses Anna.

Victoria: She nods, then laughs.

“We’re blessed to live in the modern day.”

GM: “Do you wanna participate in a battle? They’re really fun! You just… need a thick skin.”

Victoria: She shrugs. “I dunno. Maybe. I don’t want to deal with all of the sexism, but it sounds fun. You sound fun.”

She looks to the professor, who seems to be struggling with consciousness.

“Do you want to grab lunch?”

GM: Anna looks at Mr. Breaux again. She looks even more sorry for him, but smiles at Sylvie’s question.

“Sure! Where do you wanna go?”

Victoria: “Jazzman’s? I would die to eat a danish, and a smoothie doesn’t sound bad.”

She gets up from her desk, eyeing the drowsy professor.

GM: He doesn’t stop them. Another guy leaves after he sees them do so.

“I wouldn’t say it’s sexism, anyway, they just don’t want anything to be inauthentic. Which I get it. They’re just… really zealous about it.”

Victoria: “I can tell,” she answers, but leaves the subject there.

“You think you’re going to stay in town when you graduate? You know, in like… years.”

GM: “Well, I wanna go somewhere else for grad school,” says Anna. “An advisor told me it’s ‘academically incestuous’ to get both your degrees at the same school.”

Victoria: "I’ve always wondered why people go to different schools. I figured they just wanted different points of view.

GM: “I think that’s it, yeah. Getting exposed to new people and ideas. I’ve had other advisors tell me I should stay in Lafayette, though, which… says something about Southern towns?”

Victoria: “They want you to stay home like a good girl? Keep the town bustling?”

She shrugs.

“I want to do something; to be something. Maybe I’ll work for NASA.”

GM: “Oh! I dunno if you went to the right school,” Anna says, amused.

Victoria: Sylvie flushes crimson. “I got where I could afford.”

GM: Mount Carmel got some scholarship money, like Mary had hoped.

But she didn’t have any college funds set up for her six kids. It was all she could do to get them to private school.

“No one here’s rich,” Anna says understandingly. “Literally, no one. I also went here to save.”

Victoria: She shrugs.

“They’ve got an engineering program. I’ll just… do the best I can. Get me A’s. Get an internship. Get somewhere better for my master’s, and we’ll see from there.”

GM: “That makes sense,” Anna says as Jazzman’s comes into view. There’s not a lot of students eating right now, with classes in session. “So that’s cool, engineering, NASA. It actually helps to be a girl there! Colleges love female STEM majors.”

Victoria: “So I hear. I don’t want to get in on that. I guess I won’t say no; but…”

Something about it bothers her.

GM: “But…?” Anna asks, curious.

Victoria: “It irks me. I want to live and die by my own merit, y’know?”

Sylvie pulls the door to Jazzman’s open, allowing Anna to enter first.

GM: “Yeah, I get that,” Anna nods before thanking her. It’s a small little cafe inside. There’s espresso, smoothies, flavored coffees, and various pastries and baked goods. Probably none of them healthy, but they don’t call it the freshman 15 for nothing. Anna orders a danish.

“But no way of knowing with admissions, is there? Can’t ask to opt out.”

Victoria: Sylvia agrees. It bothers her that she agrees, but the truth is the truth and the world is what the world is.

She orders a pumpkin iced coffee, and a pumpkin glazed muffin.

GM: “What are the schools like in New Orleans?” Anna asks after they get their orders and sit down.

“Not, like, colleges. Lower schools.”

Victoria: “You don’t want to know the answer to that,” she answers, her brow lofting with betrayed pain, poorly masked.

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, bad subject?” Anna asks, nibbling her danish.

Victoria: “It’s not great. I’m lucky to be here, honestly. Many of the children who grow up in New Orleans aren’t so fortunate, unless they luck into a family that’ll send them to private school.”

She nibbles her muffin.

“I was one of them. Kind of.”

GM: “Kind of?”

Victoria: She’s a curious one…

“I was adopted just before my teens.”

GM: “Oh, congrats! Er, belatedly. Is that the right thing to say?”

Victoria: Sylvie chokes on her coffee, laughing.

GM: Anna smiles in response. “I don’t know, honest! It sounds like it was a good thing? How else do you say ’I’m glad a good thing happened to you’?”

Victoria: She swallows, red-faced. “It is good, yeah! Just… kind of a heavy topic, y’know? Like talking about surviving cancer.”

Honestly, it’s not far off.

GM: “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that I know I wanna be a teacher, after I graduate, and I’m pretty sure I wanna stay in-state.”

“I was thinking about New Orleans, but I don’t really know anyone there. No one from there moves to Lafayette.”

Victoria: “A teacher? Oooh… I’ve never met someone who wants to be a teacher!”

She seems genuinely excited at the prospect.

“I mean, there are plenty of private schools. I went to Mount Carmel. Didn’t see a boy ’til I got here!”

GM: “Catholic school?” smiles Anna.

Victoria: “Virgin Training,” she nods.

GM: Anna giggles.

“Well, it’s not as if sex ed out here is much better. We had a pastor come in to talk about abstinence, and that was it.”

Victoria: “How well did that take with the class?” she teases with a knowing smirk.

GM: “Welllll, the babies that appeared after prom didn’t come from storks, let’s just say!”

Victoria: The muffin is suspended between her teeth. Flowers bloom and wilt, civilizations rise and fall before she says, “…yours?”

GM: “Oh, no!” Anna exclaims, blushing. “I wanna teach kids, not have them! Not that early, anyway.”

Victoria: “Oh.”


She nibbles the muffin some more. The silence doesn’t feel awkward so much as amusing.

“One day. I think my mom kinda hopes I’ll have them; give them a good life. Like she did for us.”

GM: “Yeah, I think every parent hopes that. Mine do.”

“They also think high school is too early, though!”

Victoria: She grimaces.

“Maybe not every parent. Good parents, though.”


“This is much more fun than class. What else are you taking?”

GM: “History, surprise surprise. And general ed requirements. Wish I didn’t need to take lab sciences.”

Victoria: She slaps the table in a sudden eruption of excitement!

“Those are the most fun! How many other classes do your TAs tell you about the time they incidentally built a bomb?”

GM: Anna giggles. “Bonus points if he’s Middle Eastern.”

“I’ve not had one do that, though. Wish one did, lab sciences put me right to sleep.”

Victoria: Sylvie almost takes a sip of her coffee. Thankfully, she doesn’t, as it would have been more on Anna then in her mouth.

“Mmm… different strokes. You’ve got a little racist in you, hmmm?” she chides, playful in intent.

GM: “I meannnn, let’s just say if you wanna be a terrorist, New Orleans is a better city!”

Victoria: “A better city than New York? Why’s that?”

GM: “Sorry, New York?”

Victoria: “The major terrorist attack of our generation. Middle Eastern origin. You might’ve heard of it.”

A pause.

“…or did you mean better than Lafayette?”

GM: “Oh, yeah, that’s what I meant. Y’know, more bleedin’ hearts in the big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, yeah. You ever been to the Big Easy?”

GM: “A few times, when I was younger! Everything there is just so much… bigger and faster, but everyone says New Orleans is really lazy and laid back for a big city.”

Victoria: “Yeah, they do? I wouldn’t know. This is the furthest I’ve ever been, and… it’s not really all that far. It’s much quieter out here.”

GM: “I like that. Life being calm, everyone knowing their neighbors. But I wanna see what a bigger city is like, too. That’s why I wanna go somewhere else for my master’s.”

“And then… I’m not sure where I’d want to teach. Maybe a small or mid-sized city. I wanna feel like I’m making a difference in kids’ lives, but I want it to be somewhere I like living, too.”

Victoria: “I think… I’d like to see what life is like out here. Not just in university, but the people, y’know? I know what I’d like to do with my life, and I don’t see it changing, but there’s something about getting to know new people; learning who they are, and their dreams, and what makes them smile. Is that odd to say?”

She shrugs, uncertain.

“You could always live outside the city and transit in.”

GM: “No, I don’t think so!” says Anna. “That says you like people, that you’re interested in them. What’s odd about that?”

Victoria: “I dunno! I’ve never really admitted that to anyone.”

She isn’t sure why she said it to Anna, either, and falls silent there, contemplating.

GM: “Oh, why not? Just never came up, or…?”

Victoria: “Something like that. Have you always wanted to be a teacher?”

GM: Anna nods. “Helping people understand the world around them, yeah. And I’ve seen teachers do great things for kids even besides teaching. It just seems like a really nice way to make a difference in your community. And I’ve always liked kids.”

Victoria: “What about the kids who don’t want to learn?”

Her, seven years ago.

GM: “You help them! You try and make it fun for them, and you’re nice to them. You show you care. And maybe if there’s something wrong in their home life, you bring in social services.”

Victoria: Poor, naive girl.

“If only it were so easy.”

There’s a somber note in her words.

“I wish there were more teachers like you out there. Social services isn’t the best answer every time, but… for many, it’s better than where they are.”

GM: Anna nods. “Maybe they can’t make everything better, but they can pull kids out of bad situations. And teachers are in a good place to know if a kid is.”

Victoria: May God help this woman if she ever finds a job in New Orleans.

“If they’re attentive.”

She sets her coffee down, knitting her fingers and looking up to Anna.

“Tell me something about myself.”

“Give me your most interesting read.”

GM: Anna looks at her and thinks.

“Welll, you were adopted when you were eleven, you’re interested in people and have never said that to anyone, and you’re an engineering major…”

“Are you studying machines instead of people because you’re interested in how things work, but haven’t really thought that studying people is something you can do? Or should do?”

Victoria: Sylvie sets her chin to her palm, thinking.

There was a time in her life where she considered becoming a therapist, or a social worker, or one of a myriad choices of work helping those who needed help, whether they be children like she was, or adults who lost their way. She considered becoming a police officer, too.

In the end, she came to understand that it isn’t a path for her, not because she doesn’t want to help people, but because she doesn’t believe she’d be able to stomach seeing others in positions similar to her childhood.

She doesn’t want to relive it, even knowing she’s now safe and sound.

“Something like that. Got me, I guess.”

GM: “Ha. Maybe I’ll be able to spot if a kid’s in a bad situation.”

“Okay, you try me,” says Anna. She sets down what’s left of her danish, resting her face on her hands.

“Tell me something about myself. Your most interesting read.”

Victoria: “You are endless in your optimism; or, at least you try to keep yourself that way. You like viewing the world through a lens of positivity, and projecting that positivity onto others to bring just a little more light onto their day, whether they need it or not.”

She pauses to sip her coffee. It seems endless.

“Maybe because you were brought up that way. Maybe your mother taught you that the light and levity you bring to others is reflected back on you. Or, maybe something happened to you. You’ve seen pain and darkness, and you don’t want to live there anymore, so you project your bubbly self to avoid the pain; so that no one asks why you don’t smile.”

She cants her head a hair, still staring.

“I like you, whatever brings out who you are. Your smiles are addicting.”

GM: Anna blushes faintly at Sylvia’s assessment, but smiles again too.

“Oh, well, thanks.”

“I haven’t had anything bad happen to me, though! I just think people should try to be nice to each other. You’re right that my mom does think that, too. And my dad. They’re good people.”

Victoria: “I wish everyone had that philosophy. What do your parents do?”

GM: “My mom’s a stay-at-home mom, pretty much. My dad’s a cop. They’re proud I’m going to college.”

Victoria: “My mom too! Not every one of my brothers and sisters are. A cop? Is there much crime around here?”

GM: “Hm, not a lot, next to New Orleans. He’s never been shot at or anything. But he’s gotten involved in some domestic violence disputes.”

“He says those are really sad, and that there’s not always anything you can do.”

Victoria: She frowns sympathetically.


She’s more familiar with that then she’d like to be. Her many foster parents rarely argued in front of her, but she recalls her one likable foster father arguing with her foster mother the night before she was returned.

Used goods.

GM: A change of pace.

Usually it was the foster kids getting abused.

“So you have a lot of siblings?”

Victoria: She nods, finally finishing her muffin.

“Yeah, five. Most of them a good bit older than me. We’re all from different places in life. Mom adopted each of us.”

A pause.

“I’m not sure why she chose each of us out of the many more foster children she saved from the system, but I owe my life to her. Literally.”

GM: “Oh, wow, six! That’s a ton of kids to adopt,” Anna says, eyebrows raised.

Victoria: She nods excitedly.

“I don’t know how she does it! Single mom with six kids, none of them her own blood, and every one treated as if they are! Grandma Beth helps out, but still. She manages more than any group home I was part of. I hope one day to be half the mother she is.”

GM: “Geez, no dad?!” Anna exclaims. “Your grandma must be a lot of help, I don’t know how anyone would do that!”

Victoria: “She’s kind of a model! Tough as nails and not afraid to tell anyone her mind. I swear, she could take on any man three times her size if she was mad enough.”

GM: The only things Sylvie’s seen make her mom angry are repeatedly taking the Lord’s name in vain and harming her children. It’s a quiet sort of tough, if there is such a thing. Mary prefers not to go off on people, but she stands her ground.

“Good for her. It has to take tough to raise so many kids.”

Victoria: “Especially feral children.”

She winks.

“The world needs more of both of you.”

GM: Anna smiles. “Oh, I think more of people like your grandma. I don’t think I could do six foster kids, without a husband. I just couldn’t.”

Victoria: “I’m not sure I could do six foster kids with a husband,” she chortles, though that undertone of proud admiration never leaves.

“Not just six, though; many more fostered who came and went. Of them, six adopted.”

The two go on for the better part of an hour, talking about life, and love, and the meaning of happiness; of Anna’s local friends, and of Sylvie’s family; of the best local restaurants, and the places to avoid; of rural, southern hospitality, and the bustle of the Big Easy.

A promise is made to find lunch the next day, following a more interesting class with a more awake professor, and it becomes a pattern. Sociology Tuesday and Thursday, lunch to follow. Eventually, it becomes an everyday thing. Dinner some nights. A movie. Heartfelt conversations. Inside jokes. The bonds of friendship link the two, they hope for good.

Wednesday afternoon, 4 September 2011

GM: “Have a seat, Sylvia. You mind if I call you Sylvia?”

The office room has no chairs.

“Oh, how careless of me. Eileen, make a seat for our guest.”

No one would ever call the woman standing in the corner “beautiful.” They’d say things like “pretty enough” as their eyes slide past where she sits on her barstool to scope out her much more attractive friends. She’s noticeable enough, though, when she’s naked except for a posture collar, leash, harness gag, and crisscrossing strips of black leather that do nothing to conceal her most intimate places. Fingerless mittens render her hands useless.

She obediently gets down on her hands and knees, presenting her back for Sylvia to sit on.

Victoria: Years of undergrad developed what was once a mostly-Christian, young woman, preening back the layers of tempered pride and kindness to reveal a lioness; yet, still a cub. Sylvia St. George drives for what she wants, and she works for it, no matter the effort. She’s taken to party-life, making her mistakes along the way, and grown into a stronger person for it.

Still, she held on to some semblance of ‘awkward’ when caught off-guard by the brash nature of how forward people can be. It’s rare when someone is more forward than her.

This is one of those times.

She expected something eccentric when she applied for a position with Chakras. Handcuffs dangling from the ceiling. The cries of a flayed man in the distance, either of pleasure, or of pain. Of ‘yes, yes!’ and ’I’m sorry, mistress’.

She does not expect to sit upon a living chair; and yet, that’s exactly what she does. Something tells her that the man—master—hosting her interview is not one to savor disagreeing, and even without a strong tie, she immediately complies.

Sylvia sits.

“Yes. Sylvia works.”

GM: The ‘chair’ is somewhat yielding under Sylvia’s rear, but the woman remains kneeling in place.

The man sitting behind the desk across from Sylvia is handsome, though. He’s black, maybe in his 30s, with a goatee and hair cut low enough to seem more like a shadow over his head than anything else. He’s also dressed in dark leather, though his conceals more of his fit frame than it reveals.

“Great,” he says.

“What’s the worst you’ve ever hurt someone in bed?”

Victoria: Sylvia has a bony ass. It’s more than a little painful for the unpadded chair of a person.

She veils the interest she feels in him, keeping herself professional despite a wandering mind. This place is fantasy brought to life.

She grins, if faintly.

“Intentionally or unintentionally?”

GM: Eileen suffers it without complaint.

The man shrugs. Sylvia never quite got his name.

“Whatever was worst.”

Victoria: She doesn’t bother to ask. If he wants to give her his name, he’ll give it. She knows well enough to know that this is probably part of the game of establishing positions, and though she isn’t ordinarily, she’ll take one of subservience if it means receiving this internship.

He will be her employer if he extends the offer. It makes sense.

“I misread landing on an ex while riding him and bent his cock. Did you know they can break?”

She shudders. That was a night in the hospital, a week of apologies, and a month of guilt.

“I’ve used handcuffs; tied him to the bed, teased him. Left him wanting. Left him begging. Left entirely.”

She shifts her hips. Sitting on another person isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.

“Another asked me to slap him, and twist his balls; to tug them, little by little, further and further from his body until he couldn’t take it anymore. One time, he finished before me, so I punched him in the balls.”

She talks as if she’s a little girl with a fantasy, and the fraudulent guilt of a cookie she doesn’t regret stealing.

GM: It’s not comfortable at all. She has to sit straight the entire time. The ‘chair’ shifts under her whenever she shifts. It takes some effort not to fall off.

“Yeah,” says the man. “No bones in a guy’s cock, but they can still break.”

He smirks at Sylvia’s story.

“How’d your boyfriend like that?”

“Or is that why he’s an ex?”

Victoria: “Which part? The cock breaking, or… the rest of it?”

She doesn’t wait for him to answer. Why would he?

A smirk foretells her answer before she speaks.

“He didn’t like being punched in the balls as much as the rest of it. That is why he’s an ex.”

She adds, “…I’m insatiable. The more I learn, the more I try, the more I experiment, the more I want. Some days, I worry about what I’ve become, and what I’ll become from here; but, it’s fun, with partners that enjoy it.”

“…was that too forward?”

Her cheeks are pink.

GM: The man just grins.

“Do something to her,” he says.

The ‘her’ underneath Sylvia shifts.

Victoria: “I…”

Maybe there’s a misunderstanding.

“This is for your industrial assembly position, right?”

Not to disobey him, she does stand up, looking for an implement.

GM: She finds no shortage of those lining the walls. There cuffs, collars, whips, chains, anything that could plausibly fit into a wall without taking up overmuch space on the floor.

“Yeah,” he says.

Victoria: Curious. She wonders whether this is for his entertainment, or some odd requirement. It doesn’t matter.

She wants a job.

She has one outfit at home. One single, leather outfit, bought on a fantasy-laden whim to live out a life she never expects to have in the privacy of her home with whoever she dates next.

She wonders whether or not she might have had better chances if she wore it here.


She selects a crop from the wall: a thin, wooden dowel, flexible to a point, with a silicon loop at the end. It feels unfamiliar in her hand.

Is she just to… hit her with it?

“Would you explain a paradox to me?” she asks the man, back turned. Her boot finds the chair’s ribs, pushing her into a roll onto her back.

Sylvia St. George roils inside, her heart thumping into her throat at the fantasy come to life, yet the thought of harming a stranger bringing concern.

And excitement.

Two parts excitement, one part guilt.

She lives in a democracy.

The boot comes to rest—gently—against the girl’s cheek, rubbing the forward half of her sole against her face.

GM: If nothing else, she can’t see the outfit hurting here. It’d be right at home.

The woman doesn’t resist as Sylvia kicks her over. Just gives a little whimper.

Her tongue flecks obediently out to lick the sole of Sylvia’s boot.

“Okay,” says the man.

His voice sounds like he’s doing more watching than listening.

Victoria: “If she likes this…”

Her heel grinds her cheek, pushing the other side of her face into the floor.

“…isn’t it giving in? They win. She wants this.”

GM: Eileen moans in need as the boot disappears from her lips.

“Yes,” the man says.

“That’s the difference between a bad dom and a good one.”

“A good dom pushes them farther than they ask to go.”

Victoria: She shifts more of the weight onto her face, grinding her sole.

“She seems more upset by having it taken from her mouth than by being crushed. How do you know ‘too far’? I haven’t heard a word—obviously.”

Being that she’s gagged.

GM: “You just tell,” says the man. “When they’re yelling to stop, not go on.”

Eileen makes an unintelligible noise.

Victoria: “…and when they do?”

She drags the crop down her nose, slipping it down the center of the ring, over her tongue.

GM: “You keep going. Duh.”

The woman moans again and licks at the crop’s head.

“It’s what they really want. To lose control.”

“It’s why they come here.”

“They don’t want to feel like they can stop you. They want to be at your mercy.”

Victoria: She slips the crop further, feeling it stop against soft flesh inside her mouth.

“What if you injure them? What if I kick her in the ribs?”

What if she broke a rib?

GM: The woman’s tongue eagerly laps against the leather.

“Go ahead. Kick her.”

“Dom who stops where they say to is just a hooker without the sex.”

Victoria: She finally turns to look at him, if only through the corner of her eyes. She appraises him—how serious he is.

Sadism, at its finest. Are there really people who enjoy that level of abuse?

Sylvia grinds her sole once more, removes her foot, and sends it into her ribs. It could have been harder, but she doesn’t want to injure her.

GM: The man looks dead serious.

He’s not even grinning anymore.

The woman gives a sharp exclamation of pain and reflexively curls her body inwards. She doesn’t ward off the blow or try to stand up.

The man watches Sylvia, dark eyes silently glinting.

Victoria: She cants her head.

Her boot arrives at the same point in her ribs, this time harder, a significant portion of her weight behind it.

GM: The woman cries out again, louder this time. She curls further inwards, arms protectively encircling her belly.

“No hands,” says the man. “Tell her that.”

Victoria: She draws the crop from the chair’s mouth, slapping her across the face with it.

Paint the picture, Sylvia. It doesn’t all need to be true. She tosses the crop aside, turning on heel. Where is it? Where, where, where…

She thumbs along the wall, an idea forming as she looks. Flogs, whips, chains, excitement, cuffs, restraints, ropes…

She draws a false knife from the wall, returns to the girl, and kneels on her wrist. The cold of the knife kisses her wrist.

“If you block me again, I’m taking a finger.”

It feels so wrong. She’ll never actually do it. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever will she hurt someone so permanently, but she isn’t here to hurt someone.

She’s an artist, here to paint a picture.

…for a job putting together equipment?

Her eyes flash to the interviewer, then back to the girl.

Don’t question him.

The knife kisses the girl’s lips.

“Burble if you understand.”

GM: The woman gives another cry and whips her face away. Her cheek has an angry red mark now.

She burbles.

Sylvia sees it.

The flash of fear in the woman’s eyes.

She looks at this naked, gagged, leashed, and mittened woman lying on the ground, staring up at her, and sees a helpless life within her power.

It feels like she can do what she wants here.

Whatever she wants.

Would this man stop her if it was a real knife?

He just grins and nods.

Victoria: She sees that fear.

It excites her. It shames her. It makes her heart pound faster. She wants more of that fear; to know that his woman—this inferior creature, fit only to serve and to be beaten—shakes at the mention of her name. She wants to comfort her; to tell her everything is okay, and that she’s loved, and she matters.

The knife drags along her cheek, presenting one, final reminder, before disappearing from her flesh.

As hard as she can, her boot sails into the girl’s ribs.

GM: The chair doesn’t see it coming, fearfully transfixed as she is on the knife.

It doesn’t sound like a cry, this time. It sounds like a scream. It’s short, but the chair’s eyes clamp shut as she curls inwards into fetal position.

Her arms start to curl inwards.

Then, gingerly, they spread back out.

The chair looks up at Sylvia. Her eyes are many things. Pained. Fearful. Contrite. Hopeful.

Did she disobey?

Sylvia knows, as if by instinct, the question that must be on her mind:

Will she be punished?

Victoria: They didn’t curl in all the way, and she opened herself up right away.

Sylvia looks to the man uncertainly, but snaps her gaze back to her prey. No, he won’t like her dependence on him.

She crouches, her boot on the girl’s wrist. A pair of fingers find the chair’s mouth, slipping between the ring.

Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump. Thumpthump.

“I won’t take a finger for instinct. You’re an animal. You want to protect yourself. I won’t take a finger, as you opened yourself up to me.”

Again, she looks to him. Just a fraction of a second.

Her fingers pass over her tongue.

“Are you happy?” she asks the chair.

GM: The chair makes a noise at the weight pressing down on her wrist.

The chair doesn’t try to lick Sylvia’s fingers this time.

The chair nods, when she hears she’s an animal.

The man smiles.

The chair nods, fervently, in final answer.

Victoria: Sylvia’s fingers hit the back of her throat.

GM: The chair starts to gag, but keeps her mouth open. Her eyes look up at Sylvia helplessly.

So helplessly.

Victoria: Her fingers hover there, on the cusp between pleasant choking and making her puke.

It must feel like minutes for the chair before Sylvia removes them, wiping the thick, vile saliva of her throat against her cheek with a pair of slaps.

She rises, turning to the man with an expectant expression.

GM: The chair gags and sputters and drools over the floor, completely bereft of dignity, like the thing she is. Saliva freely leaks from her forced-open mouth.

The man looks at the chair, laughs, and then looks back to Sylvia.

“You’re hired.”

Wednesday evening, 14 September 2011

GM: “Oh my god, you’re a dominatrix?!” Anna giggles over the phone.

“I thought you wanted to be an engineer!”

Victoria: Sylvia cackles.

“I’m not a dominatrix! I’m just working for that kinda place. The job is to help assemble their equipment, rigging, machinery—that sort of thing. You know, engineering. The interview was just—well, a bit of gratuitous, hedonistic fun, I think. To make sure I’m a personality fit. They wouldn’t want someone who’d be awkward to be around.”

“You want to keep making jokes, I’m sure they won’t mind if a flog disappears for the night. Wait—no. You’d like that. Your boyfriend probably would, too, and I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of the mental masturbation.”

GM: Anna just bursts out laughing for several moments.

“Sylvie, you’re totally a dominatrix, just listen to you!”

“‘I just assemble the machinery.’ Riiiiiight.”

Victoria: She bites her lip, holding in a retort.

GM: “Literally the next sentence, you say you’re gonna punish me!”

Anna giggles even more.

“You’re even kinda right, Jeff probably would be into that.”

“I’d totally be the sub with him.”

Victoria: “You know, I still have a picture of that secret, little mole of yours, and I haven’t uploaded to Facemash in a while…”

It’s an empty threat. She knows Sylvie would never embarrass her so publicly. Especially with something so exposing.

“You aren’t already?”

GM: “What?” Anna laughs. “No! We’ve done some spank play, and sometimes I call him Daddy, but we don’t, you know, work at a dungeon or anything.”

Anna giggles some more.

“And if you post that photo I’m gonna tell everyone you’re a dominatrix now!”

Victoria: “I think one of those would be a lot more embarrassing than the other!”

A brief pause.

“Cute butt, by the way.”

GM: “Oh why thank you, Dark Mistress Dominatrix.”

Victoria: “You are incorrigible, I swear.”

GM: “Dark Mistress Dominatrix Doombringer? Dark Mistress Dominatrix Tyrannia? Is that enough titles?”

Victoria: “Oooooh, I like that last one… you want a spanking for a thank you?”

GM: “Yes, and for you to say what a bad girl I’ve been.”

Anna giggles a few more times.

Victoria: “You know very well just how bad a girl you’ve been.”

Anna’s laugh is just as soothing and addictive as it was that very first day.

GM: “I’m sorry, I’m happy for you, really. It sounds like a fun job. It’s just… it fits.”

Victoria: “No, no, we wouldn’t be us if we couldn’t tease.”

Yet, saying it fits strikes a cord in her. She isn’t sure why, nor can she tell whether it’s positive or negative.

“What do you mean by that? That it fits.”

GM: “Well, just… everything. You know, not much control growing up, Catholic household… it fits.”

“Also, you’re tall and dark.”

“Short girls aren’t dommes, I just don’t see it.”

Victoria: “Anna, I go into the sun to get my phone from the car and come back with a sunburn. Dark is the last thing I’d call myse—wait, you think I’m just coping with my lack-of-daddy issues!?”

GM: “Oh I mean dark hair, not dark skin. Seriously, how many blonde dommes are there?”

“And no, I don’t mean you’re coping! It’s just… it fits!”

Victoria: “Yuh huh. You know all about what does and doesn’t fit.”

GM: “Okay, I have it. Ultimate test, to determine once and for all of you’re a dominatrix.”

“If you fail it I won’t say another word.”

Victoria: “Oooh, the almost-teacher is giving me a test!”

GM: “You bet she is! Now, okay, you ready?”

Victoria: “I am always ready.”

GM: “How many dark leather domme outfits do you have in your clooos-seeet?” Anna asks in a singsong voice.

Victoria: A loooooong pause.

GM: Anna bursts out laughing again.

“You’re a DOMINATRIX! You’re a dominatrix! You’re a dom, dom, dom…!”

She breaks off giggling.

Victoria: “…two. I got one the other day, okay!?”

GM: Anna laughs even louder.

“Two!? I thought you just… had… one…!”

There’s more laughter.

Victoria: “I am so going to smack you next time you come over.”

“They made me get one for work! Look—you wore your black pants when you waitressed. I wear… that.”

GM: “Those pants were cloth. Black is just a good waitress color!”

“You know, like black leather is for dominatrixes.”

Victoria: “You know, you’re only making it worse for when you’re eventually my client,” she answers playfully.

GM: “So you are a dominatrix,” Anna declares triumphantly.

Victoria: “Only for you, love. Only for you.”

“Don’t tell Jeff, hm?”

GM: “He’d probably want me to do that, if he could watch.”

“So, I have to ask, what is getting… interviewed for a totally-not-dominatrix job like?”

Victoria: “Just… things. You know. Some technical questions and skill competency. A bit of the environment.”

She knows that Anna is going to have a field day with the truth, and while she’s comfortable bending the it to not-quite-a-lie, Anna deserves the truth in its entirety.

“They made me… demonstrate a bit. If I were to be hired for more.”

GM: “Demonstrate…?”

Victoria: She’s grateful they aren’t video calling.

“Uh huh.”

GM: Anna lets out a whistle.

“‘Skill competency.’”

“Uh huh.”

“At spanking or tying people up?”

Victoria: “It’s better to show than tell,” she hums in a sing-song voice.

GM: “I seeeee,” Anna says consideringly.

“So, for real, did you spank people?”

Victoria: “Nope.”

Technically the truth.

Anna knows her better than that.

“Okay, okay, okay.”

She pauses.

“Jeff isn’t around, right?”

Promise you won’t tell?”

GM: “Yeah, he isn’t. And I promise.”

The laughter mostly leaves her voice.

Victoria: “Okay, okay. They kinda made me… do it. Like, on the spot.”

She puts on her employer’s voice.

“Do something to her.”

And back to her usual husky tones.

“…so, I did. Not too much. Just a few minutes of letting myself go. Honestly, it was kinda fun.”

GM: “Oh. Wow. Just like that?”

Victoria: “Just… like that, yeah. I guess the girl they brought in likes it. She didn’t seem too unhappy.”

GM: “Wooow. I don’t even know what I’d have done there.”

Victoria: “Probably die.”

GM: “That’s probably why I’d be the sub, ha?”

“Sooo, what did you… ‘do’ to her?”

Victoria: “You know, Anna, for all you’re talking about it, I can’t help but wonder if there’s more than a small fantasy in that pretty, little head of yours.”

GM: Sylvia can all but hear the blush in Anna’s voice.

“It’s not! I’m just curious.”

Victoria: Testing time.

“How about… I tell you in person, hmn?”

Every ounce of her acting goes into that question, immersing herself as far into the performance she put on at Chakras as she can.

GM: “Oooh, boy. Is it that racy?”

“That’s kinda a long trip from Miami, though.”

Victoria: “Well, if I’m going to be helping you live your fantasy, I may as well do it in person. At least then I’d get something to watch out of it.”

GM: “Okay, for real, it’s not a fantasy! It’s just… I’m curious, since you said this wasn’t actually a dominatrix position.”

“So, wouldn’t the only thing that matters be what you can build?”

Victoria: “Uh huh.”

She doesn’t believe her.

“I just… I took a crop, and used it on her face. They had already tied in her a ring gag, hands in mittens, and largely nude aside.”

She pauses, seeing how Ana takes that.

“There was some other bits. Mild choking. Boot play. That sort of thing.”

Downplayed, but still true.

“I mean… I guess they trust my resume, and only needed to see how I fit the culture.”

GM: “Wooow,” says Anna.

“That’s seriously the wildest job interview I’ve ever heard of.”

Victoria: “Yeah, it was pretty fucking absurd. But it was also pretty fun, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.”

GM: “Good for you, then. It sounds like a fun job.”

Victoria: “…do you really mean it?”

GM: “Yeah. Waitressing’s really stressful.”

“There’s a reason I quit for that bookstore job.”

“If you’re having fun with it, why not get paid?”

Victoria: “Yeah.”

There’s a smile in her answer.

“You’re right. We should enjoy work. How’s the bookstore going?”

GM: “Eh. I’m looking forward to teaching, let’s just say.”

Victoria: “I’ll bet. Almost there…”

A pause, and then her words are filled with an overwhelmingly somber note.

“I really miss you.”

GM: “I know,” Anna sighs. “I miss you, too.”

“Miami’s a change of pace, but I’d trade it for another year at Lafayette together.”

Victoria: “Could trade it for a few years in New Orleans? I don’t think I’m going to be leaving anytime soon.”

GM: “No, of course not, it’s where your family is.”

“I don’t think I wanna teach in Miami. That’s not for me.”

Victoria: “Beach humidity isn’t as fun as bayou humidity?”

GM: “Ugh, the humidity’s worse. Not a ton worse, but it is.”

“Lafayette is further north.”

Victoria: “Will you be going back there? Or finally try the city?”

GM: “I might try New Orleans, yeah. To see what it’s like. See you.”

“Contracts are only a year, if it turns out to be something I can’t do.”

Victoria: “I think that you’ll be the best teacher they’ve ever seen, no matter where you go. Enthusiasm matters, and you’ve got it in droves! Maybe you can teach at my old haunt.”

GM: “Awww.” Anna smiles. “Thanks, that means a lot. They all say teacher burnout is such a thing.”

“I’ve had some teachers outright tell me, not to do it, but… someone has to.”

Victoria: “Or the next generation will be for the worse, right? True of so many jobs; teaching especially.”

“…you’ll be a good teacher.”

GM: “Thanks. I hope so.”

“And you’ll be a great engineer.”

Victoria: “I’m a dominatrix, remember?”

GM: Anna giggles. “I was just about to say. When you aren’t being a dominatrix.”

Victoria: There’s a long pause.

“Visiting soon?

GM: “Oh definitely, I was thinking over break?”

Victoria: “Uh huh. That sounds nice. I’ll try and pull myself away from the dungeon.”

GM: “It’s such a long drive. I’m really tempted to just fly.”

Victoria: “You’re probably better off.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s ‘only’ another two hours to go visit my family, so.”

“Be a nicer drive if you took a rental out to Tallahassee.”

“Or even just Mobile.”

Victoria: “You want to meet in the middle?”

GM: “Yeah, it’d make the long drive a lot more fun!”

Victoria: “…I could fly all the way to Miami, and drive back with you. That might be a fun trip.”

GM: “Ohh, that’s a thought. Flying isn’t too expensive?”

“Or are you rakin’ in the dominatrix dough?”

Victoria: “Eh. I’ve got a savings. Not a lot, but enough.”

“No,” she laughs. “I make dough out of their asses.”

GM: “Ha, of course. But yeah! If it’s not going to bust the piggy bank, that sounds like a really fun road trip.”

Victoria: “Sure, sure. Can we do it in one go? Or will we need a hotel?”

GM: “It’s 13 hours… yeah, I’d wanna break that up.”

Victoria: “Ah, weakness…”

GM: “We could do stuff in Miami, too! If you’re already flying over.”

Victoria: “Oooooh, there’s an idea! I’ve never been to the coast before. It’s a big party city, isn’t it?”

GM: “It is, yeah. Lot in common there with New Orleans. And the beaches are incredible.

Victoria: “I take it you’ve spent a good amount of time there?”

GM: “Yes! There isn’t anything like them. I love home, but there just isn’t.”

Victoria: “Mmn. That does sound like a nice trip. Okay, okay! Let’s plan it. I can stay at your place?”

GM: “Of course! It’s not much but you’re welcome to it.”

Victoria: “You know I don’t need much.”

One fateful class brought them together.

Despite time and distance, together they’ve stayed.

Previous, by Narrative: Amelie IX, Caroline I
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Previous, by Character: Story One, Victoria Prelude II
Next, by Character: Story One, Victoria II

Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

“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.”
Amelie Savard

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.

Going home.

Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015

GM: Caroline’s summer has nearly wound down. Her final year of law classes starts back up in several days. September 1st has that Southern Decadence festival Aimee has been trying to talk her into attending. The Malveaux scion’s Friday afternoon is hers to spend as she pleases until she hears her phone ringing. The caller ID is from her aunt Vera.

Caroline: Caroline is recently back from a shopping trip, and the dining room table is piled high with designer label bags. She sets down the half-eaten half of her Hook and Cheddar sandwich from St. James Cheese Company (something she picked up on the way home) on the bar of her kitchen.

She sighs when she looks at the caller ID. Her aunt is a strange one.

She considers letting it ring to voice mail as she chews, savoring the soft ciabatta bread, sharp cheddar cheese, and smooth avocado and mayo spread of the sandwich. She (reluctantly) swallows and answers, suspecting her ‘wide open’ weekend will become less so.

“Hi Aunt Vera, how are you?”

There’s a hint of false cheer in her voice.

GM: “Oh, there you are, Caroline. That took you a while, are you in the middle of something?” her aunt asks back. It sounds more like a criticism than a question.

Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline replies sweetly. “I was just setting some things down. What can I do for my favorite aunt today?”

GM: “Oh, very good. Well, you see, it’s about my old portfolio manager from Whitney Bank, Lawrence Thurston. I wish he hadn’t retired, my new one isn’t as good. She’s all right, by herself, but there’s just no substitute for having a years-old relationship with your client.”

Caroline: “Good help is so hard to find these days,” Caroline agrees loftily.

GM: “Not just these days. It’s always been that way. Katherine!” Her aunt’s voice grows more distant. “Katherine! It’s time for my four o’clock soon!”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Well, you do have so much more experience than I do.”

GM: “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux, I’ve already-”

“Check it again, Katherine. I’ve had a very long and tiring day, I don’t want the rest of it to be any worse!”

“Yes, Mrs. Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline patiently walks two fingers up and down the bar while she waits for her aunt to finish.

GM: Vera’s voice grows louder again. “Anyways, Caroline, where was I—oh yes. Lawrence has been teaching part-time finance classes at the McGehee School for Girls, my old high school, to ‘keep busy’ in his retirement. Really, if the man wants to keep busy, I’d be perfectly happy to hire him on retainer, but he just goes on about how he must ‘gracefully and regrettably decline’ because his ‘loyalty must be to the Whitneys.’ I do admire loyalty like that in a man, it’s just a shame when it’s… well, misplaced.”

Caroline: “You can’t make good choices for them,” Caroline offers.

GM: “Sadly not,” her aunt sighs. “Anyways, Lawrence just called me about one of his students. He said the girl was asking about you specifically, and your old fencing… career.” There’s what sounds like a frown from the other end of the line. “You aren’t going back into fencing, are you? Your mother was right that it’s a distraction, not to mention unladylike. You’re only a year off from graduation.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes, pushing back unpleasant memories. She still has several foils and even real swords upstairs. She hasn’t touched them in more than a year. She still remembers the state semi-finals. Remembers that stocky coiled spring of a girl.

“Of course not, there’s not exactly a future in it.”

GM: “Yes, exactly. Lawrence said the girl was some kind of… sword-maker, and she’d also somehow found out that our family was involved in that scene—people do talk, as you can well see.”

Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose, near her eyes, with her free hand. As if she needs a reminder. She still remembers that last fight with her hag of a mother. Remembers the exact words that kicked it all off, minutes before the semi-finals. ‘People are talking’.

Caroline shoves the thought to the side.

GM: Her aunt, however, continues on, “Lawrence also said that she’s been one of his more… challenged students.” The word is clearly a euphemism. “She’s new to the school and the city, doesn’t know anyone at all, and then there’s this whole fencing thing. But she’d been to the year’s opening assembly where I addressed the girls as one of the alumni guest speakers, and it seems I must have inspired her. She was very taken by what our family’s done, and then, again, there’s this sword business…”

Vera pauses and sounds like she’s frowning over the phone. “It’s a strange request I’m about to make, Caroline, but can you talk with her and steer her straight? Out of that whole fencing scene? McGehee doesn’t even have a fencing club, and if this girl turns out poorly enough, it’ll reflect on the school.”

Caroline: On your alma mater? Caroline asks herself sarcastically. Heaven forbid.

“I’m always available to help my favorite aunt,” she replies. “Do you have her contact information, or would you rather Lawrence set something up?” She continues after a moment, “Preferably something semi-public.” Just in case the girl is a nut job.

GM: “Yes,” her scarred aunt agrees quickly. Very quickly. “Meeting strangers by yourself is always a chancy idea. Lawrence was thoughtful enough to get her email and phone number, you can use either if you want to set something up… or keep things distant.” Vera duly supplies them.

“There was also something about her being an amateur art historian and antique restorer… so much the better if you can keep her away from fencing, Caroline.”

Caroline: “There are better uses of anyone’s time,” Caroline agrees tightly. A lie.

GM: “I’m so glad you agree,” her aunt says, relieved. “In any case, I don’t want to miss my four o’clock… thank you for taking care of this, Caroline, your mother would approve.”

Caroline: Doubtful, Caroline reflects.

“As I said, my favorite aunt.” She takes down the girl’s name and number.

GM: Another sharp call of “Katherine!” and “Yes, Mrs. Malveaux,” punctuates that brief pause.

As in all things, family must come first.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria Prelude II
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria I

Previous, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie VIII
Next, by Amelie: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

Previous, by Caroline: Story One, Caroline Prelude
Next, by Caroline: Story One, Amelie X, Caroline II

Story One, Victoria Prelude II

Tuesday night, 13 June 2000

Victoria: Sylvie is a beaten dog. She cries in that solitary box until the tears run dry, then she heaves hollow sounds. She hugs her knees, rocking back and forth on the floor.

Sylvie is a bad girl.

A bad, bad girl.

The dreams remind her of that. She sees her parents, burning in the willow tree, needled and jabbed by faeries and dragons and goblins. They don’t mind if Sylvie sees them as long as they have her parents.

GM: Sylvia languishes in solitary for hours, eventually crying herself to sleep. She’s hungry when she wakes up.

She’s just as bald, when she wakes up.

She can feel her bare skin under her fingers. The cuts and nicks from the cruel scissors still sting.

She waits for what feels like hours before a staff member finally unlocks the door. He’s got all of her things in a cardboard box that he shoves into her hands. “You screwed up,” he tells her. She’s now at negative points.

He leads her through the group home’s hallways. Every kid stares at her and her bald head.

All of them laugh or sneer.

Victoria: Her feet are too heavy to move. She can’t help them. She can’t help anyone.

She doesn’t even respond to the staffer, her eyes counting the myriad speckles in the floor. One trillion and one, one trillion and two…

She loses count once they start walking.

GM: The staffer leads her out to the home’s reception area. Sylvia’s latest case worker is there, along with a short, gray-haired, and middle-aged woman with clear blue eyes and lines along her face, although they aren’t harsh lines. A silver crucifix hangs from her neck. She’s dressed in a dark button-up and clogs.

She gives her name as Mary St. George and says she’s Sylvie’s new foster mother. Sylvie is leaving the group home to come live with her.

That’s good news, at least, though the rest of the woman’s words likely don’t leave much impression.

How long will this foster parent last?

Victoria: ‘Foster parent’ doesn’t mean much positive to her anymore. Foster parents just rent kids and do what they want with them, then toss them back.

“Hello…” she answers when Mary gives her name.

GM: Mary offers to carry Sylvie’s box of things to her car, if she wants.

Victoria: She doesn’t accept the help. No, Sylvie can carry her own things. People take them when others touch them.

She does make sure her Gameboy is inside.

GM: Sylvie has her Gameboy.

There’s not much else in the cardboard box. Just a few changes of clothes and toiletries, really. It’s not a heavy box.

Victoria: It’s the only possession in the world that has value to her. One of a kind, despite millions of others.

This one has her name on it.

GM: Mary’s car is a white minivan. After they load in Sylvie’s things and she fastens her seat belt, Mary turns to her and says,

“You have been treated very badly. That stops today. From this day forward you will be loved, cherished, and cared for. No one will be allowed to hurt you. I know you don’t believe me, you have every reason not to. That’s okay, you will when you are ready.”

Victoria: “Anything is better than here,” is the only answer Mary gets on her promise.

GM: Mary just nods at her answer and drives.

“Would you like to get a hat?”

Victoria: She nods.

GM: “Do you want to come with me into the store, or would you like me to find you something?”

Victoria: “I don’t have any money… I don’t like when they steal.”

“They stole from Jacob, and he didn’t care. I still didn’t like it.”

GM: “I don’t like that either,” says Mary. “And that’s fine, I don’t expect you to have any. I’ll pay for your clothes.”

Victoria: She begins to cry again.

GM: They’re driving, so Mary can’t take both hands off the wheel. But she reaches over and rubs a hand along Sylvie’s shoulder, lightly at first, as if testing whether she’s okay with the physical contact.

“I’m so sorry, Sylvie… they’ve all been so cruel to you… so cruel…”

Victoria: She can’t stop crying. She wants to be brave, and obedient, and quiet, and go to school, but she can’t stop the tears.

She can’t stop crying because she doesn’t believe a word this woman says.

GM: Mary pulls over the car and asks if Sylvie would like to hug her.

Victoria: She isn’t sure. Is it a trick?

She does want a hug, and she’s so desperate for any shadow of the affection she got in the year she spent with a loving family that she doesn’t care if she’ll be hit for it.

GM: Mary leans over and puts her arms around Sylvie. The stoutly built woman is a lot for the thin and gangly preteen to hug. She’s warm and soft. Sylvie has few memories of being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The closest was the family who wouldn’t take pictures of her, then got rid of her without saying goodbye. So many of her foster parents haven’t wanted to touch her. Rules at the group home strictly prohibited all physical contact between residents and staff, other than, apparently for the latter to hit the former. The full weight of all those years without physical affection seems to fall in on her as Mary holds her close.

Victoria: The closest she’s come to this was when she hugged her dog; the only creature who loved her, unconditionally and unmitigated.

It doesn’t help the tears stop.

She clutches into Mary’s shirt, soaking it through to the skin with her crying. She doesn’t care if this woman will bring her back tomorrow. She doesn’t care if she tosses her out, or calls the police. She just wants this contact.

GM: It’s anyone’s guess what tomorrow will bring. Sylvie’s least of all.

Mary holds the 11-year-old against her, sometimes running a hand along her back. She says things, every so often, that Sylvie doesn’t really hear. All she makes out is that Mary’s voice is soft.

Sylvie isn’t sure how long passes. The woman doesn’t let her go.

Victoria: Nothing could break that hug. It’s tried.

She hugs the woman, and hugs her, and hugs her, not because she’s fond of the woman, or because she took her from that horrid prison, but because it’s human contact. How long has it been since Sylvie had a real, unconditional hug?

Eventually, her heaving sobs lessen to hiccups, and she sits back.

GM: Sylvie is hard-pressed to say when, if she leaves out the dog.

Does the foster sister she had for a day count?

Mary resumes driving and asks again whether Sylvie would like to come into the store with her. If not, she can just say what kind of hat she’s looking for and let Mary get something.

Victoria: She just shakes her head.

“I don’t want people to see me…”

She gets a choice in the type of hat? She can’t remember the last time she’s been given a choice by an adult, either.

“…my favorite color is purple.”

GM: “I didn’t think you would,” says Mary. “What about a purple bucket hat, or beanie?”

Victoria: “What’s a beanie?”

“I don’t like beans.”

GM: Mary smiles. “They’re made from wool or cloth, usually. They fit your head closely and don’t have a brim like a baseball cap.”

Victoria: “Oooooh…”

She thinks about it.

“I think I like that.”

Then she thinks about it some more.

“Won’t it be hot?”

Then again, she doesn’t have hair. She’ll get a sunburn without something.

GM: “People wear them when it’s cold out, though also when it’s not,” says Mary. “Since they’re tighter on your head than a bucket hat or baseball cap, they’re usually warmer.”

“But your head will feel colder anyways, without hair.”

It’s the strangest sensation, how cool she feels up there. Sylvie always took her hair’s insulation for granted. Her head feels naked without it.

Though there are ways way to feel in a stiflingly hot and humid New Orleans summer than naked.

Victoria: The simple nature of Mary’s explanation vexes her. Why is she answering her questions so straightforwardly?


A pause.


GM: “Okay, a purple beanie. Do you have any other colors you’d like if I can’t find purple?”

Victoria: “Pink. Or blue. I guess green is okay. Or white?”

GM: “I’ll see what I can find,” says Mary.

She drives a little while longer before stopping outside a hat store. She shows Sylvie how to change the channels on her car radio, if she wants to listen to music. She says that her two favorite channels are 89.7 Wake Forest and 95.9 The Fish. The former plays classical music. The latter plays Christian music. Star 101.5 and 103.7 The Mountain play modern rock, if Sylvie would prefer that.

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t touch the radio station, despite being allowed to.

She doesn’t trust it.

The radio remains untouched, exactly on the current station—The Fish—and at volume 13.

GM: After Mary’s gone, Sylvie sees another family with a kid, a girl, walking into a nearby store. The girl points at Sylvie and laughs. The parents smile, say something, and head into another store with her.

The radio music continues to play.

“All I know is I’m not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong.”

Victoria: This is not where she belongs.

But anywhere else makes her feel worse.

She sinks down low in the seat, waiting for the air conditioning to short circuit and leave her to bake.

One serving Sylvie: Leave in car fifteen minutes on 140F.

GM: For better or worse, the AC doesn’t give out before Mary returns with a beanie hat.

“I couldn’t find purple, sorry, but you can see they had blue.”

Victoria: She really did buy her a hat.

How will Sylvie be paying her back?

Such a cute shade of blue, too!

Sylvie appears confused.

GM: “You should put it on,” smiles Mary, handing it to her.

Victoria: She takes the beanie, staring.

It’s a long moment before she puts it on.

GM: The wool is soft and fits snugly around her head.

“It looks good on you,” says Mary. “While we’re out, do you have any other things you’d like to get?”

Victoria: “I… I don’t know.”

It’s less a sadness and more a statement of fact. She doesn’t know what ‘having much’ feels like.

GM: “Our house has a lot of toiletries, so things like toothbrushes won’t be an issue. What about things like clothes or books or food?”

Victoria: “I have three shirts, and two pairs of underwear. Two pairs of pants. Some socks…”

She paints it as if it’s enough.

GM: “That’s not enough, even if we want to do laundry every two days,” says Mary. “Let’s get you some clothes, then. Come on.”

Victoria: “They made me do laundry at another house!”

House, not home.

“I don’t mind. I can do it.”

Perhaps she sees a little bit of a good thing here. She expects the tricks to come. She knows the pain will start, but if she can prove that she’s a useful girl—a good girl—then maybe they’ll treat her just a little better.

GM: “That’s good you know how to, though you shouldn’t have had to do all of it yourself,” says Mary. “We have laundry nights where we sort and fold everything together.”

She takes Sylvie to a nearby thrift store. The woman doesn’t seem like she’s operating on as large a budget as her last family, but she browses the racks in the children’s section with Sylvie and asks her to pick out things she likes.

Victoria: She doesn’t complain when Mary actually does take her to a store.

Sylvie picks out a single shirt and a single pair of shorts. That’s enough, right?

GM: Mary nods at her two choices and asks what else Sylvie wants to get.

Victoria: “Oh.”

She doesn’t fully get it.

“This is fine.”

She doesn’t need anything else.

Or does she?

GM: Mary shakes her head.

“You should have something different to wear each day of the week. So, we need three more shirts, and four more pants or dresses. Plus socks and underwear.”

“You should also have a nicer dress to wear for church and special occasions.”

Victoria: “What’s church like?” she asks, thumbing through a rack of dresses.

As they talk, she picks what seems nice—her taste, without looking too expensive.

GM: Expensive, at least, seems less of an issue in the thrift store. Her last family took her to a department store.

Those clothes are long gone, pilfered by roommates and staff in the group home.

“Church is wonderful,” says Mary with a serene expression. “The priest will give mass in Latin. You won’t understand the words, but it’s very beautiful. Then he’ll talk about God, and how much He loves us all. The choir will sing, and that will also be very beautiful. We’ll talk with people about stories and lessons from the Bible. All sorts of things, like the life of Jesus or Noah’s ark, or Daniel in the lion’s den. Everyone will be very nice to you. We’re all there to rejoice in how much God loves us.”

“And He does love you, Sylvie,” smiles the woman, resting a hand on her shoulder. “He loves you very, very much.”

Victoria: She’s heard of God before—in people passing on the street, in school, in stores. She’s heard His name a million times, but no one ever really stopped to explain God to her.

Sylvia winces at the declaration of love, and it’s immediately apparent she’s trying not to cry.

“I don’t like when a man loves me, or my foster family…”

GM: Mary pulls Sylvie into a fuller half-hug with her free arm.

“God isn’t just a man, Sylvie. He’s so much more than a man. He is greater and bigger than the whole wide world. And His love is deeper and bigger than any kind of love you can receive. His love will never hurt you, make you feel bad, or touch you in places where you shouldn’t be touched. His love will fill you like a big meal after you’re hungry, a long drink of water after you’re thirsty, and so much more. You won’t even realize how hungry and thirsty you are, until you realize how much He loves you. It’ll fill your heart and shine through your eyes, and everything in your life will be better. You will feel warm and safe and never, ever alone, because God is always with you, and will always love you. No matter what happens, no matter what you do.”

Victoria: She doesn’t entirely understand, nor does she entirely believe Mary, but maybe if she attends Church she’ll have a better idea what it means.

“I don’t get how someone can always be loved, but okay…”

She continues rifling through clothing. All in all, she picks out four more pairs of pants, two shorts, three dresses, five shirts, and enough underwear and socks to last.

GM: “That’s okay,” nods Mary. “That’s what church is for, to help you understand God’s love.”

She shows Sylvie her crucifix up close. It’s silver and shows a man with his arms spread and a crown of thorns.

“My father gave this to me, when I was around your age. He’s in Heaven now, and with God all the time. So when I look at it, I’m reminded of how much they love me, and how I’m never alone. Just like you aren’t ever alone, Sylvie. God thinks about you all the time, and how special you are to Him, and how much He loves you.”

Victoria: She shudders again.

“Am I gonna go to Heaven too? How do you get there? Why do we go to meet God?”

GM: “If you try your best to be a good person, you go to Heaven,” says Mary. “You go there when you die. But death isn’t really the end, Sylvie. Death just means you get to be even closer to God.”

Victoria: This is all very confusing to Sylvia. She prefers looking at pretty dresses.


Death isn’t the end, but that is the end of the conversation.

“I think this is enough?”

GM: “I think that’s enough clothes,” nods Mary, once they have enough for seven basic outfits and a nicer dress.

She casts a glance at Sylvie’s well-worn pair of converse. They were new when her last family got them, but months in the group home have left them in pretty sorry condition.

“Do those have any holes in them? Or your socks?”

Victoria: She nods sheepishly.

GM: “Let’s get you some new shoes, then. We don’t want your feet to get wet when it rains.”

She lets Sylvie pick out another pair for everyday wear, and a second nicer pair for church. Along with extra socks.

Victoria: She’s much too old for light-up sneakers, and so she skips those. She finds a simple pair of converse, much like those she has on but with different coloration and patterning.

Her shoes for church are black; formal and to the point.

GM: Mary compliments her fashion sense and pays for the purchases. She asks what Sylvie’s favorite foods are on the way out.

Victoria: “Uhm. Pizza.”

It doesn’t take her long to answer that one. It’s a simple answer, though, as everyone likes pizza. Even Sylvia is aware enough to know that she may learn to like many more foods, if she had the family to experience them with.

GM: “That’s a classic,” says Mary as she opens the car trunk and loads in bags. Sylvie’s expected to do so too. “Any others?”

Victoria: She shrugs her shoulders.

“Pasta. Fried chicken. Candy.”

She expects to receive none of that.

“Mac and cheese.”

GM: “Let’s see, I think we have everything on hand for pasta,” says Mary as she sits down in the driver’s seat. “You don’t need too many ingredients. How does that sound for dinner tonight?”

Victoria: She nods.

“Thank you, ma’am,” she answers.

“Are there… others in your house?”


GM: “You can call me Mary, Sylvie. Or Mom, whenever you feel ready,” she says as she starts the car.

Victoria: “Okay. Mary.”

Sylvia has a mom. She doesn’t like when she visits.

“Is it far?”

GM: “Not too far,” she says as she drives. “We live in the Irish Channel. My mother and I are Irish and very proud of it.”

“And yes, I’m taking care of five other children besides you. Julius, Leslie, George, Brian, and Hannah. My mother, Beth, also lives with us and helps take care of everyone.”

Victoria: “Oh.”

Another group home. Great. She’ll have to find a place to hide her things.

“Are they nice?”

It’s a test.

GM: “They are nice. Like you, they’ve all been hurt. They won’t hurt you or steal from you.”

“It’s okay if you don’t believe me. We’ll all have to earn your trust.”

Victoria: She isn’t sure whether Mary means it or not.


It’s become a common answer; a lie.

Wednesday afternoon, 14 June 2000

GM: Mary’s house looks old. It’s big enough to comfortably house a normal-sized family, which means that Sylvie shares a room with Leslie and Hannah. Leslie’s a redhead who’s a little younger than her. Hannah is black and looks several or more years younger. She seems nervous around Sylvie, but Mary assures her that Sylvie isn’t going to hurt her.

There’s not much privacy, but the rooms are clean and there’s no locks on the doors or bars on the windows. Laundry is done weekly. They’re doing laundry today, in fact. Sylvia’s new and old clothes can get a washing.

Victoria: She shares a room with other kids, none of whom push her, shove her, or call her names. Not that she takes off her hat—she isn’t going to give them a reason to change.

Sylvie reassures Hannah that she isn’t going to hurt her, too.

Laundry is done weekly. Together. As a family. Talking, and laughing, and making chores fun. Or so she comes to believe, from how the rest of her first day goes.

GM: Dinner on the first night is spaghetti and meatballs. Mary and Beth oversee the cooking and have Sylvie participate, so she can also learn how to cook. Everyone bows their heads, prays, and thanks God for providing their meal before they eat. Sylvie gets a few glances when she doesn’t remove her hat with dinner, but no one remarks.

Victoria: She isn’t the best cook in the world, but she’s also 11; but, she participates, and she gets to know her new mother and elder sister.

She even uses the bathroom on her own without asking, after being told she didn’t have to ask the first time.

GM: Mary teaches Sylvie to say the Lord’s prayer alongside Leslie and Hannah before they go to sleep. She also gives her pajamas. They used to belong to another girl who stayed with Mary, but they’re clean and only a little big. Mary says she’ll grow into them.

Victoria: She moves her lips during prayers, but doesn’t speak the words she doesn’t know, and doesn’t pray in her head. Who would she pray to?

Sylvie asks what happened to the girl who owned the pajamas.

She already knows the answer.

GM: Mary says that the girl’s grandmother assumed care of her. That’s what foster care is supposed to be, Mary explains: temporary, pending either adoption into a new family, or reunification with an old family. The girl had no pajamas when she came to live with Mary. Her grandmother got her new ones, and said Mary should keep at least some the old clothes she’d bought her granddaughter; Mary looks after a lot of kids, after all, and clothes are expensive. Not to mention kids go through them fast.

That approach seems characteristic of the St. George household: Mary doesn’t seem to have a lot of money, but she provides. Leslie and Hannah are likely going to wear her hand-me-downs after she outgrows them, if they stay with Mary.

Victoria: Temporary. Exactly as it always has been. Forever and always temporary. How long will this one last?

GM: Mary says that Sylvie can stay with her forever, if she wants to. She knows Sylvie doesn’t have any biological relatives in the picture. George and Julius don’t either, so Mary’s adopted them.

Sylvie also doesn’t need to decide right away. She can take some time to see if she likes living here.

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t believe her. The only forevers are being temporary and being unwanted.

GM: Those thoughts may long occupy Sylvie’s mind as she drifts off to sleep. Her beanie falls off during the night. Leslie sees in the morning.

“What happened to your hair?” she asks.

The question sounds curious rather than mean.

Victoria: When her beanie falls off, she freezes. The abuse never comes, just curious questions.

“I—I… some mean girls swapped my shampoo with hair remover…”

GM: “Oh,” says the younger girl at her answer.

“I’m sorry.”

“What’s hair remover?”

Victoria: “Uhm. It removes hair. Like mine. I hope it grows back. No one said that it would…”

GM: Leslie asks why it wouldn’t. Hair grows, right?

Victoria: The next day, Sylvie decides on a test. She finds Mary.

“Can we take a picture? Like, all of us.”

GM: “Of course,” says Mary. “Here, or somewhere else?”

“We could go on a picnic for it. The weather is just right.”

Victoria: “A picnic?”

She’s seen those before.

“I’ve never been on a picnic. I’d love that. Do you have a camera?”

GM: Sylvie’s last family went on some picnics. She stayed behind in their house, though they left her with food.

Mary says they’ll go on a picnic, then, and shows her a handheld Kodak.

Victoria: She holds the camera up to her eye, looking at her foster mother.

“What will we bring on the picnic?”

GM: “We want things we can carry in a basket,” says Mary. “So solid foods, rather than liquid ones. We don’t want anything that’s too messy, because we’ll only have what napkins we bring with us. We also want things that can stay fresh and not spoil after a while in the sun, in case there’s leftovers.”

Victoria: “Like sandwiches? And rice?”

She can’t think of much else that fits.

GM: “Those are good ideas,” says Mary. “Fruit and potato salads are also popular.”

Victoria: “But fruit has juice!”

GM: “That’s okay. It comes in whole pieces, and we keep it in a container.”

Victoria: “Okay.”

Containers are allowed.

“What about vegetables?”

The other kids made fun of her for liking vegetables.

GM: “Vegetables are good to eat at picnics, and good to eat any time,” Mary says approvingly.

“Oh, you also want them to be things that taste good cold, since we’ll walk for a little while to get to the park.”

Victoria: “But won’t the cold things get warm? So they have to taste good in the middle.”

GM: Mary nods. “That’s right, Sylvie. That’s what I should have said. You’re very smart.”

Victoria: She is? She can’t help but smile.

“Can I help pack…? Are we going now?”

GM: “We need to make the food first,” laughs Mary. “So, we can go for dinner. Or we can go tomorrow for lunch.”

Victoria: “Lunch tomorrow!”

She’s almost forgotten about the whole trick of a picture. For the first time in a long time, Sylvia feels a spark of excitement.

GM: “Lunch is the most popular time,” says Mary. “Dinner second. I’ve never heard of a breakfast picnic.”

They make things for the picnic, later in the day. Sandwiches. Potato salad. Fruit salad. Veggie salad. Chocolate chip cookies. Juice boxes and water bottles. The next day, they load everything into the family’s two cars, along with blankets, and drive up to City Park. It’s the biggest park in the city, and one of the biggest in the country.

Lots of other people are there that day, having picnics of their own, walking dogs, or just strolling through the park. Mary and Beth also bring Frisbees for the kids to play with.

There’s also ducks to feed. Mary and Beth bring a bag of old bread and show the kids how to tear it into clumps and toss to the ducks. They noisily squawk and descend en masse wherever the scattered bread bits land.

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t ask for a cookie, but it’s plain on her face that she wants nothing more than just a nibble. Or the entire plate.

Sylvie is good while they pack, helping pick out food, pack it into boxes, bring it to the car, and participating in conversation while they drive there. It’s only been a day, but she feels as if she belongs. It’s almost akin to how she felt in the family with her dog, but there’s no subtle exclusion. No exclusion at all. She’s there. She’s welcome. She’s wanted.

Sylvie is wanted.

For now.

She’s never had more grins than feeding ducks with her new family.

GM: Sylvie can’t have the entire plate of cookies, because her foster brothers and sisters want cookies too. But she can have multiple ones, not just nibbles. They’re there to be eaten.

Mary brings the camera, too, and asks where she’d like to take pictures.

Victoria: If God comes and takes her to Heaven tonight, she won’t complain. Not after cookies. And kindness. And smiles. And family.

“Right here!” she says, pointing to the blanket. “All of us.”

GM: Mary asks a passerby if he can take some pictures of them, so they get in everyone. He snaps several of the family gathered on the blanket. Mary and Beth take some individual photos of everyone, after that. Mary drops the camera off at a drug store on the way back, to get the pictures developed. That’ll take three to five business days.

Victoria: Sylvie feels something bubbling up inside her that she can’t identify. It’s a positive feeling, but bitter. Unknown. Uncertain. She can’t place her finger on what it is, because—at least in part—she’s never felt it before.

GM: Four pass before Mary picks them up. She finds the one she likes most, of everyone on the blanket, and frames it and hangs it on a wall.

There are other pictures on the house’s walls too, Sylvie notices. Some feature her foster siblings. Some feature kids she doesn’t recognize. Some are mixes of both. Some kids appear in lots of pictures, others in only one. Mary points out each of their names to Sylvie. There are even more pictures in a photo book, where she puts the others.

“Some of them stay with me for a long time,” says Mary. “Some only stay for a little while. God doesn’t give forever to anyone. That’s how He teaches us to treasure the moments we have, and the people we share them with. Whether it’s for a long time or just a little while.”

Victoria: Days later, she sits in front of the portrait, marveling.

There are no tricks. There is no deception. There is no cruelty, or mean words, or thrown punches. There is no theft, nor leaving anyone out. No willow trees. No burning parents. No faeries. No goblins. No dragons. No locks. No doors that can’t be opened. No barred windows. No broken air conditioners.

And there are pictures; pictures of her, and her family.

For now.

Tuesday morning, 20 June 2000

GM: “For now” stretches into one week, then two, then three, then four.

Then one month becomes two, then three, then four.

Then more.

Some of the kids come and go. Hannah and Brian are replaced with a Kelly and Robert. Kelly’s replaced with a Maria. Robert’s replaced with a Shawn.

Victoria: Every time a kid leaves, Sylvia asks where they went. Whether they were there for a day, a week, or a year, she cares; if not for them, the poor soul cast back into the system, then for the principle. She doesn’t forget them. Not like she was forgotten for so much of her life.

GM: It’s almost always because they’re reunited with their biological relatives, Sylvie picks up from Mary’s answers. Sometimes the children go to live with relatives other than their parents. No child leaves their parents’ custody unless there’s a serious problem. Some of these parents get their lives back together, and eventually regain custody of their children. Others don’t. There’s not always a happy ending. Some parents only get their lives together enough to satisfy minimum court requirements, and will probably lose their kids again. But the kids who leave aren’t just shuffled off to new foster homes where they’re abused. Mary often thinks it’s for the best, when a child leaves.

“Goodbyes can be happy, too.”

Victoria: It’s a world that Sylvie’s never encountered. Foster children being returned to their real families? Why were they taken in the first place? Why are they returned? Why does it take so long? What if their parents are bad again? Sylvie asks, and Mary answers. Over, and over, and over, and over again.

GM: Sylvie goes to St. Rita’s School. It’s a Catholic school, where the kids wear uniforms. The suburban school with her old family was nice, but there are no metal detectors at the doors or fights in the halls. Her foster siblings go to the school with her. The ones in her grade share her classes, so she has an in to make friends.

Victoria: She’s thankful for having foster brothers in the same year. She isn’t sure she’d be able to make friends without them—though, maybe so. The Sylvie of today isn’t the Sylvia of yesterday, thanks to Mary St. George. She’s more outgoing. She’s happier. She talks more. She smiles. She engages with others. She’s even learned to trust; to expose her vulnerable insides to others, and hope that they don’t rake them raw.

GM: Church is every week at Saint Alphonsus. It’s much as Mary described. Lots of singing and talk about God, along with Sunday school. Mary asks if she wants to be baptized, so she can receive the eucharist—the body and blood of Christ. Some of her foster siblings do, others don’t.

They volunteer afterwards, cooking meals for the homeless and other families, who Mary calls “the less fortunate.” The people are poor and need their money for other things, or don’t have any money at all. Some of them smile gratefully and say thank you. Others look embarrassed to be there. Mary tells Sylvie that helping others helps herself, and brings her closer to God. She’s fond of the Feeding of the 5,000, the story where Jesus feeds everyone with five loaves and two fish. She’s also fond of the story where He washes the feet of His disciples—even Judas, the one He knew would betray Him.

Mary’s faith is everything to her. She’s something called a consecrated virgin. She is married to Christ, having vowed to take no other husband, she loves Him that much. She thought about becoming a nun, when she was younger, but she also wanted to raise a family. She thinks fostering and adopting children is the best way to do both—to raise them and commit herself to God.

Victoria: She isn’t really sure what happens when someone is baptized, but it seems to be what her mother wants. She listens to the priest talk for a while, and then she agrees—and over time, she becomes a dutiful, Christian daughter.

She isn’t sure she wants to marry Jesus, though. She doesn’t want to think about virginity and how it disappears. Other kids have talked about sex. It doesn’t really interest her.

The story of 5,000 intrigues her in the same way as fairy tales do: they’re fun, and they’re interesting, but she knows that they aren’t real. Much as she has become invested in her own expression and self with respect to God, the story—and many others—delegitimizes that relationship to her. Why does God need to share fairy tales? It seems that his other teachings are good enough. Now he’s just embellishing.

GM: Baptism is a way you declare your faith in Christ. It shows how much you love Him and want to go to Heaven.

Mary says that most girls don’t marry Jesus like she does. They marry normal husbands. Pledging yourself to Jesus without becoming a nun is a very rare choice.

Mary says that the Feeding of the 5,000 isn’t a fairy tale, though. It’s real and actually happened. That’s what’s so miraculous about God—things that would be fairy tales to Sylvia are real to Him.

Victoria: “I hope I have a nice husband one day,” she muses one day. She pictures marrying an astronaut.

She asks Mary to make Jesus do a real fairy tale again, like feeding all the foster children in the whole world. She promises baptism if he does.

GM: Mary says that she will have a wonderful husband. “If you have love in your heart, you will find someone with love in his. Love begets love.”

Mary says that Jesus will feed all of the foster children in the world when he comes back. He will feed them and clothe them, and do more than Mary has ever done (or is capable of doing) for any of the children in her care. They will want for nothing, their suffering will end forever, and they will know His boundless love in all of its richness and fullness when God establishes His kingdom on earth.

When asked why God doesn’t do this yet, Mary reads Sylvie a quote by C.S. Lewis, which she says explains why God doesn’t just wave His hand and make everything better.

Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a French-man who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.

God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.

Victoria: Sylvie wants to see it happen now. She wants to see every foster child happy today, and fed today, and clothed today. Not tomorrow.

But the quote helps her understand. A little.

She gets baptized anyway. It makes Mary happy.

GM: Mary is glad when Sylvie gets baptized and takes communion. She says it’s good for her, even if she doesn’t understand everything yet or believe everything yet. It can take people a very long time to come to an understanding with God. The author of that quote only did when he was 30.

Victoria: She doesn’t know that baptism involves dunking your head. She’s old enough to appreciate symbolism, but it’s hard for her to understand the connection between bobbing for apples and God. Still, she does it. It makes Mary happy.

GM: Life is stable and predictable. School, after-school activities, chores, homework. Everyone is busy. There’s always chores to do at a house with six kids. The kids are expected to contribute to the house’s upkeep, and taught the value of hard work, though Mary and Beth do more work than they do. Mary most of all. Beth is retired, and spends her time at home. Mary also has a job as a social worker. She still finds time for things like picnics and trips to Audubon Zoo, or Lake Pontchartrain, or the museum.

Sylvie is fed and clothed. She gets cake and a modest amount of presents on her birthday. There are movies to watch on TV, since Mary doesn’t have cable (or want it). Mary takes everyone to an animal shelter, at one point, to get dogs—her last one “crossed the rainbow bridge” a little while before she fostered Sylvie. The kids are expected to help walk them, clean up their poop, and take care of them.

No one hits or molests or insults or steals from Sylvie.

Her hair grows from bald to a peach-like fuzz to full enough that she no longer needs the beanie.

At first, Mary says things like how much she appreciates Sylvie. How much she enjoys having her in the family. How much she likes her laugh. She talks about saying “I love you” and what it means, outside of God’s love. She says there is no pressure for Sylvie to say those words herself.

Eventually, she asks if Sylvie is okay with Mary saying them to her.

Victoria: The concept of love is foreign to Sylvie. She’s never had a mother say it. She’s never had a father say it. She can imagine what love is from movies and stories of princesses and books—she loves reading—but she doesn’t know what love feels like.

Maybe that’s the strange feeling burrowing up lately?


She flushes a light tinge of crimson at Mary’s question, and nods silently.

“If you want.”

GM: Her foster mother hugs her close, after she answers yes, and then says,

“I love you, Sylvie.”

Victoria: Her pause is long, and she’s not immediately sure her heart can speak the words; words, she realizes, that she’s never actually spoken. When they come, they project that uncertainty.

“…I love you, too.”

GM: Even getting baptized doesn’t seem to make Mary so happy as Sylvie’s answer does. For all its uncertainty, her foster mother’s face is radiant as she hugs Sylvie again and asks,

“Would you like me to adopt you, Sylvie? You can stay until you’re grown up. And past when you’re grown up, if you ever need to.”

“It will mean that you’ll always have a home here, that no one can take away. Your social worker will close your case.”

Victoria: Sylvie has been in the foster system her entire life. She’s seen the rare child get adopted. They disappear, as all the others do. Where they go, and what happens to them, is beyond her knowledge and sight; however, it’s always spoken of in the positive.

She isn’t really sure what being adopted fully means, either, but Mary’s promise of staying until she’s an adult—and then beyond—lights up as if all the Christmas tree lights and all the birthday candles in the world ignited before her. She’ll have not just a house, but a home, and a mother, and a future!

She’s never had a future before.

Sylvie begins to sob, and nods emphatically.

GM: So it happens.

Mary’s already a foster parent, so she doesn’t need to go through the process of being certified there. All that’s left to do is submit the petition, involving some paperwork, and then attend a finalization hearing with a judge. Sylvie’s birth certificate will be amended to list Mary as her mother. Sylvie can also have her last name changed to St. George, if she wants to. Her original surname of Banks, she knows, was given to her by social workers. She’s not sure why they decided on Banks.

The day of the hearing, Mary and Beth attend with Sylvie and the family’s other children. Sylvie and the others dress up in their church clothes: Mary says it’s important to present yourself well when you see a judge. Going to court is a special occasion.

The whole process takes maybe an hour. Once the judge signs the adoption decree, and smiles, “Congratulations, young lady,” it’s official: Sylvie is a legal and permanent member of the St. George family. There’s much crying and embracing.

It’s to no one’s surprise when they take pictures.

Sylvie is in the front and center.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie VIII
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Previous, by Character: Story One, Victoria Prelude I
Next, by Character: Story One, Victoria I

Story One, Amelie VIII

“You think he has it in him to kill Kristina?”
“Everyone has that in them. It’s only a question of what draws it out.”

Christina Roberts to Jill d’Agostino

Wednesday morning, 26 August 2015

GM: The next day’s classes pass by. Ms. Perry gives a very enthusiastic lesson on the Lafitte brothers, who she laughingly admits to finding, “Such bad boys! The baddest of the bad—after that scoundrel John Law.” Yvette and several other students tease her goodnaturedly for her “crush.” Amelie may be particularly interested to hear about the less famous Pierre Lafitte, who was a blacksmith. Ms. Perry even touches on “their watering hole,” Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop & Bar in the French Quarter. It’s reported to be haunted by ghosts—like countless other buildings in the Vieux Carré.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t display the kind of interest someone might expect over one of the Lafitte men being a blacksmith. There were still hundreds of artisans like that in those times and they were nothing special. It’s the rest of the brothers’ story that’s fascinated with. Like usual, she regularly puts her hand up to ask questions and add tidbits of her own.

GM: Ms. Perry has Amelie stay after class ends and mentions that she called Yvette’s mother. Mrs. Devillers was very grateful for the warning and said she would have a bodyguard escort her daughter to the LaLaurie House, “Just in case.”

Amelie: It puts Amelie at ease to hear there’ll be a bodyguard, but not by too much. At least Yvette’s mom knows the place is dangerous in case anything happens to the girls. All Amelie has to do now is clear whether Rachel can come along and focus on protecting them during the night.

GM: The history teacher also says that she hopes Amelie’s talk with Mrs. Achord was “useful to you,” although she does not press for further details.

Amelie: Amelie tentatively nods along and makes an off-handed comment that the focus on the imminent school dance made her worry about the therapists’ opinion of her. All in all, though, it was good to talk to someone in more detail.

“It seems eyes are on me for this dance, so I’ll be going. I already have a dress I can wear, as well.”

GM: Ms. Perry waves off Amelie’s initial concerns about the school psychologist’s opinion, adding, “You see a therapist for yourself, not for them. Don’t worry about what she thinks.” The young history teacher also expresses how glad she is to hear that Amelie is going to the school dance. She’ll be attending herself, too. “As a chaperone,” she smirks. “Gotta keep the boys from getting too fresh after you dazzle them in your dress.”

Amelie: “I went to a public school. And worked at a tourist attraction for geeky out of shape boys and men who sweat in armor they’re strapped into for five hours. You don’t have to worry about me,” Amelie laughs.

Wednesday evening, 26 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s aunt mentions during dinner that, “I’m having a friend over for dinner tomorrow. You’re welcome to either join us or go treat yourself at one of the city’s restaurants, as you’d prefer.”

Amelie: Amelie expresses a bit of surprise, and more interest, at the mention of one of her aunt’s friends. “I think I’d like to stay, if you don’t mind. I’m curious to see one of your friends. I’ve only ever met your assistant.”

GM: “Her name is Jill. But all, right we’ll be having a late dinner at 8:30.”

Amelie: “That’s just fine. I’ll move my study time to earlier, then. I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

Thursday morning, 27 August 2015

GM: The next day at Ms. Perry’s class, Yvette nods agreeably when Amelie mentions having a friend she wants to bring along.

“Ah ’ave another class with Rachel, Ballroom Dance. She should be fine.”

Thursday noon, 27 August 2015

GM: At lunch, Rachel is quite happy over Amelie’s news that she can come to the slumber party. The new student appears to have scored some major points with her circle of friends as Rachel asks, “Would it be okay if all of us came? Do you guys want to?”

“This is on Friday, right?” Megan asks. “Let me get back on that, I might have a family thing going on.”

Hannah thinks a moment. “I think I could swing it. Night in a haunted house sounds pretty fun.”

“If we don’t get murdered in our sleeping bags,” Rachel cheerily adds. “I’d say ‘murdered in our beds’, but the house probably doesn’t have any.”

“Poor us,” Hannah remarks between a forkful of salad.

Amelie: Amelie is still anxious over the visit, but she keeps her feelings to herself and simply plans how to get them through it all. She’s already found the house’s floor plans online and familiarized herself with its layout and escape routes. There’s even going to be a bodyguard now, although Amelie can’t say whether they’ll be a help or harm.

It’s a spirit-raiser to hear the other girls get so excited, though, so Amelie just smiles and nods. “I’ll have to ask Yvette, but I don’t think she’ll have issues with any of you. It’ll be more fun with so many people. I dunno if they have beds or anything, but I bet the house is ready for show at least. So we won’t be choking on dust bunnies.”

GM: “Great!” Rachel smiles at Amelie’s assent. “I call dibs on the room where they found the murdered guy covered in his own crap.”

Amelie: “I think that room was made into a larger room when it was converted back to one big mansion for that actor guy.”

GM: “Yeah, that actor,” Hannah says. “Whatshisname, wasn’t there a meme that he was dead?”

“Rick Towers,” Megan fills in. “I thought he was dead. Alcohol poisoning?”

“Well dead or alive, he’s not going anywhere.” Rachel. “He had this insane pyramid built at St. Louis for his grave.”

“So, what, he thinks he’s a pharaoh?” Hannah snorts. “Celebrities.”

“He’s not even dead yet and there’s already this tradition springing up around it.” Rachel. “Girls are leaving lipstick kisses all over the grave. Well, pyramid.”

Megan frowns. “My grandma wouldn’t like that. Those old cemeteries… they don’t have a lot of room. He’d probably have to get rid of a bunch of other graves for his pyramid.” Her frown deepens. “I don’t think I like that. I mean, I’m glad he likes the city and all, but he isn’t from here. He shouldn’t get to come in and wave his Hollywood money to tear up that old cemetery.”

Hannah looks up from her phone. “Sounds like the curse got him. He got hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, then his wife divorced him. And he’s pretty deep in debt too.”

Amelie: Amelie nods along. She knows the actor and has seen all the cheese he’s vomited out over his manic career.

“Wonder why he took such an interest in New Orleans. Or if the bank will repossess his grave. But I have to agree, it’s pretty disgusting to take up so much room, having a place with land you can’t bury people in sounds so strange. I’d already decided I wanted to be buried in one of those tree pods. Do you think he left a national treasure or something before he vacated the house?”

GM: “Guy was broke. He probably grabbed anything that wasn’t nailed down.” Hannah.

“Tree pods?” Meg asks.

Amelie: “Crazy as he was, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hid fossils under the floor boards. And yeah, they’re these little biodegradable graves, they bury you, and your body gives nutrients to grow a tree. No grave, just a tree. I thought it sounded romantic.”

GM: “Huh. I could go for that. Sounds better than biodegradable coffins.” Hannah.

“Yeah, it does. I wanna be buried at Lafayette though. Well, not buried, you know what I mean. But all my family has plots there.” Megan.

“Same. Literally. Same cemetery.” Rachel. “Maybe we’ll be neighbors.”

“That’s kinda creepy and comforting at the same time.” Megan.

“Wanna write our wills together then, in case we all die at the LaLaurie House?” Rachel suggests with a smile that might or might not be joking. “Or maybe we could just write them there.”

“Okay, that’s only creepy. Writing your will in a haunted house.” Megan.

Amelie: Amelie chuckles at the exchange and adds, “Who knows what infernal otherworldly powers might make us write a contract to sell our very souls without us knowing.”

GM: Amelie’s phraseology draws second looks from Megan and Rachel.

“Writing your will is kind of a contract though. It’s really acknowledging you’ll die,” Hannah says thoughtfully. “So writing ours in the house would be saying, if you think about it… that we’re signing our lives over to the house. That we know we’re going to die in there.”

Megan looks even more discomfited than before.

Hannah adds, “Well, uh, hopefully we aren’t.”

Thursday afternoon, 27 August 2015

GM: The end of Ballroom Dance with Mrs. Flores heralds the end of the school day. Amelie’s phone rings as she walks across the now-crowded exterior campus. Younger girls walk to the school buses as the older ones almost uniformly head towards parked cars.

Amelie: Amelie can hear the song’s chorus playing over the buzzing in her shirt pocket, and can never help muttering along with the lyrics. “Pineapples are in my head…”

She answers the phone quickly after. “Hello?”

GM: The caller ID is ‘unknown.’ The voice on the line is young and female. “Uh, hey. It’s me.”

Amelie: “Miranda! It’s good to hear from you. How are you?”

GM: “Good, I guess.”

Amelie: “Did you go to school today? I can come find you if you wanna talk in person.”

GM: “No, I’m okay. Just… waiting around until my dad picks me up.”

Amelie: “That’s good. Does he pick you up often? You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to. I know how difficult family can be.”

GM: “Sometimes,” Miranda says. “When he feels like it, I guess.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and starts casually looking around the school parking lot for Miranda. Even if they talk on the phone, she still wants to keep her eyes on the girl.

“That sounds like it can hurt. Can I wait with you? I can show you something cool.”

GM: “Well I think it’s stupid,” the preteen counters. “Our housekeeper picks me up faster.”

McGehee, as best as Amelie has previously been able to discern, lacks a single designated parking lot that would be an eyesore in the historic neighborhood. The closest thing it has is a space behind Bradish Johnson House and a particularly large weeping willow that can hold up to maybe twenty cars. A sign indicates it is reserved for faculty use.

Students, meanwhile, simply park their cars against the sidewalk facing the school’s long wrought iron fence. Parking ‘spots’ are given on a ‘first come, only one served’ basis. The girls who obtain these lucky spots can drive off campus at their leisure, while the less fortunate must walk a block or more to wherever they have been able to park their vehicles. The limited spaces no doubt encourage carpooling among friends, which is probably more likely in any case with the small student body.

Amelie doesn’t have an easy time picking out one student from so many other identically-dressed ones, but she eventually spots Miranda waiting by the flagpole just off the sidewalk.

Amelie: “I’m sure she does. Do you and your dad do anything when he picks you up, though?”

Amelie keeps walking and maintaining the conversation until she finally spots Miranda, then casually approaches her while they talk.

GM: The mousy- and pimple-faced girl looks slightly alarmed by Amelie’s abrupt appearance. “How’d you know I was here…?”

Amelie: Amelie taps to hang up her cell and drops it into her breast pocket. “You said you were getting picked up. This is where people park. You okay, hun?”

GM: “Yeah, I’m fine,” the preteen repeats, adjusting her backpack over her shoulders. “It’s just boring waiting around.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles just a little and offers her messed up hand for Miranda to look over. “Well, I brought you something cool. Look, I got into a knife fight. I took pictures, too.”

GM: “Oh, that must’ve been fun,” the girl says with plainly affected nonchalance.

Amelie: “Oodles,” she replies in kind. She takes out her phone to show the girl her palm’s freshly-cleaned stab. “Gross, huh?”

GM: Miranda looks it over. “Who’d you fight to get that?”

Amelie: “Honestly, I was just blindsided by a fortune teller near Jackson Square. She didn’t like me asking about the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Oh. Well they’re all scammers or crazy.”

Amelie: “Yup. I acted like a tourist,” she mutters bitterly. “How about you? Do you do anything fun on weekends?”

GM: “Yeah, stuff,” the preteen says vaguely.

Amelie: “No fair. Secret stuff? Wild drinking parties? Stalk the nights in a costume?”

GM: “Just… stuff,” she says with a shrug. “Same as anyone here does.”

Amelie: Amelie smirks. “If it isn’t a pain, you should take me sometime. I’m new to the city, I don’t know what people here do.”

GM: “Well… they eat a lot,” Miranda fills in. “There’s a bunch of restaurants here.”

Amelie: “The food’s pretty bland where I grew up. I’ve been meaning to try a lot of food. How about… hobbies? Nothing on your end?”

GM: “No, there’s nothing to do in this city,” she complains.

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but smile at the irony. Miranda is bored in a place her older classmate is excited to be in.

“Well, there’s a lot of stuff you can do. Take up an instrument, focus on fitness, oh! Art. New Orleans has a huge art scene. If nothing else, you can do your best now, and move somewhere more interesting. Like I did. The place I lived before this only had a few thousand people.”

GM: “Well the place I lived had way more than this boring city,” Miranda goes on. “But I had to move here and it sucks.”

Amelie: “Hmm… Los Angeles? New York?”

GM: “Chicago.”

Amelie: “Moving is tough. I miss the stuff I left behind a lot, too. But hey, the University of Chicago is great. I don’t think your folks could say no if you wanted to move back for that.”

GM: Miranda pauses, then answers, “I guess. In seven years.”

Amelie: Amelie frowns lightly and puts a hand on Miranda’s shoulder in an attempt to cheer her up.

“I could teach you to rollerskate or something to pass the time. Parents… have a way of trapping their kids. All we can do about it is do our best to surpass them and be happier, so we know we don’t owe them anything.”

GM: The preteen doesn’t look sure what to say to that, then mumbles, “I just miss my mom…”

Amelie: There’s a pang of sadness for them both in Amelie’s gut as she rests a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder.

“I know how you feel, Miranda. I’m sorry.”

GM: Miranda looks surprised by that admission. “Oh. Where’s yours?”

Amelie: Amelie smiles bitterly. “We don’t know. Just that she wanted to leave, so… she did. I try not to think about it. Among other things. How about yours?”

GM: “She’s in Chicago, my parents are divorced.” A beat. “I’m sorry your mom left.”

Amelie: “I’m sorry your parents divorced. You have more to deal with than I do on that front. But if your mom is in Chicago, I bet you could ask to spend parts of your summer with her. Get back to the big city.”

GM: “No I couldn’t,” Miranda answers glumly.

The two are interrupted, however, by the arrival of a black Chevrolet SS. The man who gets out is a tall figure in his early middle years. His close-cropped beard and mustache are streaked with salt and pepper, which together with his angular face and fit, lean frame, give him a vaguely wolf-like countenance. He’s dressed in a gray blazer and black button-up shirt.

“Miranda. Good to see you’re making friends,” the man remarks as he rests a hand on her shoulder.

Amelie’s attentive eyes note that two of his fingers don’t bend like the other three. He’s angling his hand accordingly.

Miranda looks up. “Dad. You’re early.”

“I got off early. Are you going to introduce your friend and me?”

Miranda looks at Amelie. “So you probably guessed that’s my dad.”

“Mr. Ferris,” her father supplies.

“And this is…” Miranda starts, then trails off. “I actually don’t know her name…”

Mr. Ferris gives a faintly indulgent smile before turning to Amelie. “Then there’s no time like right now to find out.”

Amelie: “Amelie,” the young woman supplies in kind. She offers a strong and firm handshake to the man’s prosthetic-less side. “Amelie Savard, I’m in senior year.”

GM: Amelie finds the man’s answering grip to also be quite firm. “You play many sports, Amelie?” he asks.

Amelie: “I fence, sir. A good deal of the grip comes from manual labor growing up.”

GM: “Fencing. That’s a practical sport.” The words might be a compliment.

Amelie: “In the modern world, maybe not so much,” she jokes, cracking a smile. “Why do you ask?”

GM: “Curiosity,” Miranda’s father smiles back. “Anyways, we’re due somewhere. I’m glad that you and Miranda know each other’s names now. Did you have any plans to hang out?”

Amelie: Amelie knows exactly why and flexes her arms in the uniform rather proudly. “Not yet, sir. That’s up to you, anyway, Miranda. You have my number, if you ever want to hang out just let me know. I’m only busy this Friday.”

GM: Miranda looks up at her dad, then says, “Uh, okay, maybe Saturday?”

Amelie: “I’d love to. We’ll figure out what we want to do during the week. We’ll make New Orleans fun, promise. I’d ask you to come on Friday, but we’re having an overnight stay in a ‘cursed’ house. Might not be a comfortable night.”

GM: “A cursed house?” Miranda asks curiously.

Amelie: “The LaLaurie. I’m pretty nervous about it.”

GM: “I dunno what that is.”

“It’s an old house in the Quarter. The owner tortured her slaves,” Miranda’s father explains.

Amelie: “And they say the house is haunted and cursed because of that. People think it’s pretty dangerous.”

GM: The gray-bearded man looks at Amelie. “Do you?”

Amelie: Amelie holds up the bandaged hand. “I’ve been convinced. But my hands are tied, thanks to my research partner. So I’m just hoping strength in numbers will… help. I mean, the place has been apartments and a lounge.”

GM: “You’ll be lucky to have full use of that hand again when the bandages are off,” Mr. Ferris remarks, though Amelie feels as if the man’s attentive gray eyes have long since made note of her wound. “If that’s where you got hurt, we won’t chance things with my daughter.”

Amelie: “The hand will have full function, thankfully. And it’s not. I interviewed a very passionate local about the house.”

GM: “Do you two have each other’s phone numbers?” Miranda’s father asks.

Amelie: Amelie nods. Now that Miranda has called her, she has the younger girl’s number too.

GM: “Good. You can arrange something maybe this weekend,” Mr. Ferris smiles. “My daughter and I have to be going now. I hope you can have those bandages off soon. Miranda, say goodbye.”

“Bye,” the preteen says.

Amelie: “Bye, Miranda. The bandages will be off by Saturday, we’ll go do something fun. It was nice to meet you, Mr. Ferris.”

GM: “I’m always glad to meet a friend of Miranda’s,” Mr. Ferris says in farewell. He gets the door for Miranda, then gets in on the other side. The black Chevrolet soon recedes past the neighborhood’s live oaks, palm trees, and other greenery.

Amelie: Amelie slowly unpacks the encounter in her head. It helps in figuring out if Miranda has some sort of out of school reason for spying on her, at least.

She turns on her heel and strides off towards the streetcar stop. Miranda might not be coming, but there’s a lot to do before the big night.

Thursday evening, 27 August 2015

GM: The doorbell to Amelie’s and Christina’s home rings promptly at 8:30. Her aunt moves to answer it.

Amelie: Amelie stands in place and smooths out the clothes she picked out. She still wonders about her sense of style even after the painstaking day she spent with Kristina. Her aunt’s assistant suggested various pieces of clothing, but never actually told her if there was anything wrong with her own choices. Their efforts culminate in the first occasion where she’s not wearing a school uniform or casual t-shirt and jeans. Low black heels, Blue King blouse, brown Romewe dress over it all, and an ascot keeping the neck tight. She hopes it’s not too dressy.

The ringing bell makes Amelie jump slightly. She watches the door with anticipation, curious to see what kind of people her aunt associates with.

GM: “Christina, how are you,” greets a woman’s voice from the other side of the door.

“Jill,” Christina answers as they hug. The light patter of rain intersperses the pair’s greeting. “I’m glad you could make it today.”

When her aunt pulls away, Amelie sees that Jill is a buxom-figured woman in maybe her early 40s with wide hips, ample breasts, and wavy auburn hair that falls past her shoulders. She’s dressed in a cashmere blouse, darker slacks, bangle earrings, and a flimsy-looking light coat (though it might be raining, anything heavier would be unbearable in the city’s muggy heat).

“Me too. Work has been hectic.” She turns to regard Amelie. “And this must be the niece you told me about. How are you, duckie,” the woman half-asks, half-greets as she moves to hug Amelie as well.

Amelie: The person Amelie sees is NOT who she was expecting. Her outfit suddenly isn’t the part of her appearance that she’s questioning, but she does her best not to show the surprise on her face. “Amelie, Miss! It’s nice to meet-!?” The hug catches her completely off-guard, and she looks to her aunt for a moment before returning it. “Nice to meet you. I’m doing well.”

GM: “Mrs.,” the woman corrects mildly as she sets down her purse and removes her coat. “But you can call me Jill,” she smiles at Amelie. “And don’t you look scrumptious in that dress.”

“The food’s already out, to re-purpose that adjective,” Amelie’s aunt notes with faint amusement. “Come, let’s eat.”

“Yes, let’s,” Jill concurs.

Amelie: Amelie isn’t used to compliments about her appearance. She mutters a “thank you” and adjusts the dress’ fit on her broad shoulders as she follows the older adults to sit and eat.

GM: Christina has already set the table and laid out the food, which consists of a creamy white cauliflower, gold potato, and milk bisque soup. No plumes of steam rise from anyone’s bowls: Christina has elected to serve the meal cold, even if the house’s air conditioning protects everyone from the worst of the stiflingly hot summer weather. Brown butter croûtons, deep red pomegranate seeds, and bright green chives provide the soup’s finishing toppings. Toasted buttery garlic bread (served warm) and a tall bottle of wine provide two complements to the meal’s main course.

“That’s the real reason I arrive late,” Jill observes with a titter as the three sit down and tuck into the soup. “The food is already out. Now tell me a little about yourself, Amelie, I’ve only heard about you from your aunt. She says you’re going to school at McGehee?”

Amelie: The food is perfect as always. Amelie remains cautious about spilling any over her clothes as she takes her first spoonful of soup.

“Yes, it’s been amazing so far. I’m looking into the engineering club, there’s a dance coming up, so it’s really been keeping me on my toes. Academically and socially.”

GM: “That’s news. I’m glad that you’re looking into clubs. They’re a good place to network,” Amelie’s aunt remarks.

Amelie: “I was under the impression there was an engineering class, not a club. I learned differently thanks to the great teachers I’ve got.”

GM: “Would that be Ms. Perry or Mrs. Flores? You seemed to like them the best.”

Amelie: “It was Ms. Perry, actually. Either way, I’m looking forward to it.”

GM: “This Mrs. Flores wouldn’t be Diana Flores, would it? I think I’ve had her husband as one of my clients,” Jill remarks between a bite of garlic bread.

Amelie: “I’m not sure about her first name, actually. She teaches Ballroom Dance, if that helps?”

GM: “Oh yes, now that’s her, the former ballerina. Her husband is in the state senate.” Jill gives a tsk. “Former husband, at least, which is such a pity. They made a lovely couple on the campaign trail together.”

“Jill works as a political consultant,” Amelie’s aunt fills in.

Amelie: Amelie frowns at that news, buts nods understandingly. “I guess you don’t share your more personal details with students. Divorced and with a longtime injury, that’s a shame. She’s a great woman.”

GM: “That is a shame if she had to give up her career. A man she could at least do without,” Christina remarks.

“She may not have,” Jill reflects. “Ballerinas rarely dance past their mid-30s. It’s a very physically demanding career—it takes such a toll on their bodies. Quite a few ballerinas go on to teach dance after they retire. So they’re almost definitely the same Mrs. Flores if she’s your instructor.”

“Those who can’t do, teach,” Christina quotes as she fishes several pomegranate seeds into her spoon.

Amelie: “I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that saying without it being meant as an insult,” Amelie muses as she stirs her soup. “Still, at least she teaches a very popular class at a very good school.”

GM: “That certainly is something,” Jill agrees. “So what are your plans once you graduate, Amelie? Your aunt mentioned that you were passionate about smithing.”

Amelie: “I think it’s an untapped market in a place with so much history. The krewes, all the reenactment societies, and I’ve even gotten some interest for what I can do so far as antique restoration. And then of course, I can ship commissions nationwide with the USA’s lax shipping laws. My school’s been… hinting that I should consider college as well, which I will. After my business takes off.”

GM: “Oh how exciting, starting your own business!” Jill exclaims. “I remember back when your aunt was starting up hers, when she first came to the city. That was a lot of work, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. And worthwhile,” Christina answers. “Breaking into the market and building up a name was a big challenge at first. Things were smoother sailing after those early days.”

“Yes, it’s all about networking these days,” Jill agrees. “Do you have many contacts and customers lined up so far, Amelie?”

Amelie: “A few. I’m being offered an interview with the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation board. They’ll offer me an ISA to help me get it off the ground, if they like it. But I have to have some work to show them first. Then I have a few teachers who have contacts they may be willing to share with me, like Mrs. Achord, her husband is a member of a reenactment society.”

GM: Jill raises her eyebrows over a sip of wine. “My, that’s a bold move going to the Foundation out of high school. Your aunt is so painstaking in everything that she does, I suppose you’re more of a gambling woman?”

Amelie: “Oh, I don’t plan to accept them right out of the gate, I’d like to speak with them first. But I plan on building this business up right out of high school whether I accept the ISA or not. The way it was worded to me sounded like a huge commitment.”

GM: “Yes, most ISA proponents usually tout how the student doesn’t have to pay the loan back if they don’t make enough money. But I think that’s an optional provision or something, Christina?”

“That’s up to the loan provider,” Amelie’s aunt answers. “ISAs fall under contract law. The lender who writes the contract can set essentially whatever terms they want. They can exempt low-income students from having to pay the loan back, but they don’t have to. Or they can include more obscure provisions such as that the student has to fall within a certain income threshold by X years, and then for Y years without interruption, to have their debt forgiven. Or they might offer a provision to buy out the debt with a flat sum, or allow another lender to buy the student’s debt. I don’t know what terms the Whitney Foundation specifically offers in its contracts.”

“Mmm, yes, maybe that’s it,” Jill thinks. “I just remember hearing from one of my clients about a well-off girl who had a falling out with her parents, so they refused to pay for college, and she took out an ISA from the Foundation. Then she didn’t graduate, or maybe just didn’t get a good job, and was still on the hook for the full debt. And with the way interest balloons…”

Jill laughs. “But I’m sorry, this isn’t a polite dinner topic. I don’t mean to be so doom and gloom, anyway. Like your aunt says, it sounds like terms can vary. Maybe I heard wrong, or it wasn’t the Whitney Foundation I heard about.”

Amelie: “TV where I grew up really paints a grim picture of the USA, I was already going to thoroughly read through anything before signing it! But thanks for the concern,” Amelie says, looking between the older adults. “So, how did you two come to know each other?”

GM: “Oh, we met around eight or nine years ago, when we both first came to the city,” Jill answers. “The flooding damage was the easiest part of Katrina to clean up, you know, the hurricane impacted so many other things. Like political district lines, after how much populations changed. I’d been living in Baton Rouge and moved to New Orleans, since there looked to be so much work available in the city.”

“Your aunt was in a similar place. She’d just moved here from New York to set up her consulting business. We were in a similar place, both new to the city and wanting to establish ourselves. So when we met at some professional function or other, we simply struck off.” Jill smiles. “It’s easier being new when you know someone else who is.”

“All of that’s true, though she’s leaving out the part where she still knew a thousand and one people in the area, not to mention its particular ways of doing things, and I knew no one and next to nothing,” Christina adds with some wryness. “It’s more accurate to say that she helped me.”

Amelie: Amelie listens and enjoys the two reminiscing. It’s nice ti imagine the two of them building their respective businesses up side by side. The hurricane caused so much destruction and displacement, but in these women’s case it seems like it did some good by bringing them together.

“I’m happy to hear you had each other in either case. I imagine post-Katrina New Orleans was not exactly the most reassuring environment to start a company or a practice.”

GM: “Oh, your aunt is kind to say that, but it has been almost a decade. I’m sure some of the details have slipped past us both, after that long,” Jill lightly laughs at Christina’s words.

“In some ways it was very inhospitable. That’s one detail that hasn’t faded,” Amelie’s aunt half-answers both women. “So much infrastructure had been disrupted. There were still thousands of abandoned cars lying everywhere, and blue tarps over so many roofs. But there was opportunity, too, to get in on the ground floor of markets when the city rebuilt. The early bird gets the worm.”

Amelie: Inhospitable. Amelie understands what they mean. It’s ironic New Orleans could be that, with how ingrained Southern hospitality and politesse seems to be among all the blue bloods she goes to school with.

“Well, just a few years later, and I’d have to say it looks like you both succeeded in getting that worm. Though I hear another saying a lot, that the second mouse gets the cheese. I imagine you both had competition?”

GM: “Of course,” Jill smiles. “And we’re hardly the only logistics and political consultants in the city. But we’ve made ourselves comfortable in our little niches.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and pointedly looks around the room. Comfortable indeed.

“I can only hope to follow your examples. During my first day we had speakers during our orientation, none of them owned a business. The closest was Vera Malveaux, but she married into the company. Though I have to sympathize with her, considering her scar.”

GM: “Oh yes, it’s very sad what happened to that poor woman,” Jill sighs. “It made sensational headlines at the time. Some corrupt or mentally ill police officer, this hulking giant of a black man, savaged her half to death one night for seemingly no reason at all.”

Amelie: “That seems to happen in this city,” Amelie offers. She takes another spoonful of soup with her bandaged hand. “Still, it was interesting to see her. She seemed like a strong woman. Minus the rumors that seemed to leak out during her speech. Painkillers and nun daughters.”

GM: “I remember all the stories. I was younger than you when it happened, in fact. We heard about her attack even in Baton Rouge. Most of the Malveauxes still lived in the state capital then, and Matthew was engaged to Vera Dyer. They almost called off the wedding.”

Amelie: “He still married her, despite what happened to her face? Was it a marriage of convenience, or did they actually have a thing?”

GM: “If she was such a strong woman, why wouldn’t he have still married her?” Christina asks with some amusement.

Amelie: “You don’t usually think ‘likes strong women’ as a trait most CEOs have. You always picture them with trophy wives, don’t you? For once maybe it’s good I’m wrong.”

GM: Jill fishes two croûtons into her spoonful of soup. “From what I hear, the two don’t get along very well these days. They only had one son, and he ended up being a priest instead of an executive VP in the family company—his uncle pushed for that, I’m sure, and Matthew didn’t stop it. Vera supposedly hasn’t ever gotten over that.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses for a moment. “How old is this priest son? Vera Malveux didn’t look that old.”

GM: “Adam Malveaux is relatively young for a priest. Early thirties, I think,” Christina answers. “His mother is in her fifties or sixties.”

Amelie: “Do we know what church?”

GM: “St. Louis Cathedral, of course. He is the archbishop’s heir.”

Jill taps her chin. “I’d thought he was assigned to St. Patrick’s. Though he is going to preside over St. Louis sooner or later, of course.”

“Yes. Father Connelly is getting old,” Amelie’s aunt agrees.

Amelie: “Huh. Well, in that case, I think I’ve met him as well. When I was in Jackson Square, I stepped into the cathedral and spoke with a priest about that age, taking care of an older priest who seemed a bit sickly.”

GM: “Hmm. I really could have sworn he was assigned to St. Patrick’s,” Jill muses, then smiles. “But that’s good for you, duckie, rubbing elbows with the old families. Just the sort of thing you want to be doing for your business.”

Amelie: “Especially one on his way to being such a figure in a historic building. If he was my client, I could do a lot for the building. I mean, if that was indeed him. I’ll have to find a picture.”

Amelie tucks back into her soup and thinks on everything they’ve spoken about so far. She’s been talking enough that she reels back her own part in the conversation to let the older adults catch up with each other.

GM: “Say, duckie, while we’re on the subject, you wouldn’t happen to have any finished pieces of yours lying around, would you?” Jill asks first. “I’d love to see any, your aunt says that you’re very talented.”

Amelie: Amelie nods, stands up, and excuses herself from the table. She remembers her pure elation when Christina brought this out to her. She couldn’t afford a storage locker in Canada, and the foster system wouldn’t allow her to possess weapons, so she mailed it to her aunt for safekeeping. She didn’t trust her father to take care of an absolute masterpiece like this: the product of weeks of screaming, swearing, and hammering the rage of puberty into a forged piece of iron.

Pic.jpg Amelie is beaming with pride when she returns to the dining room. She holds her masterwork’s long and thick scabbard against her forearm, right under the big steel crossguard: like a squire who’s presenting their knight with their weapon for an upcoming battle.

“Careful when you pull it out. It’s sharper than hell.”

GM: “Oh my, this does feel authentic,” Jill laughs when Amelie presents her the large sword hilt-first. “Let’s just hope I won’t impale myself…”

She grasps the hilt with both hands and gives a solid pull. Amelie has seen plenty of tourists handle other products from her family’s forge the same way: they all expected the swords to be much heavier than they were.

Her aunt’s friend gives a half-laughed, “Oh!” as the large blade comes out easily. Amelie briefly fears Jill is about to drop it—and worse, clip her feet with the hellishly sharp edge—but the woman’s awkward grip turns instantly steady as the same lethal thought seems to flash across her mind.

“I feel like I just drew forth Excalibur from the stone,” Jill chuckles, before her arms start to sag and she lays the sword flat across her lap. Her expression turns more serious as she continues, “And I say that because this seems like a sword fit for a king. I don’t know too much about weaponsmithing, but I can tell when an artist has put their all into something. You did, didn’t you—give this your all?”

Jill strokes a finger along the blade’s edge. “I can just picture it… you bent over the forge with a great steel hammer, pounding and bludgeoning the blistering-red metal into shape, sparks flying every which way like fireflies in summer.”

Her aunt’s friend closes her eyes and murmurs, “And in each one, a fire—an inferno in embryo! Stillborn conflagrations that could annihilate a thousand lives! Oh, for weapons of war to be birthed from fire, it is only appropriate.”

She looks back up at Amelie and chuckles, “I’m sorry, duckie, you’ll have to excuse me getting carried away—I actually minored in poetry in college. But this feels like a sword worthy for King Arthur, truly. I’m very impressed.”

Amelie: Amelie listens to the praise, but her gaze stays locked on her creation. She watches like a hawk in case the edge slips from Jill’s hand—someone who doesn’t even see the entirety of its beauty. She’ll show her.

“I can make beautiful swords, gaudy ones. I can lay gold and ivory, set jewels, and carve bones. But this is a subtle beauty. A lethal beauty,” she starts, dipping a finger into her water glass and taking the blade’s flat with her other hand. She gently slides her wet finger down the flat to reveal a pattern so subtle that it would look like bad polish to an untrained eye. But the moisture makes it shine and shows off flowing yet uniform waves and twists that cross against each other like rivers. They’re as neat as a row of military graves.

“1095 Carbon steel. S7 shock steel. 9260 Silicon-manganese alloy steel. Stacked, tac welded, heated, and forge welded. Then folded. It’s called a Herring-bone Damascus pattern. And those specific steels together are part of my masterpiece. This sword broke two of my hammers, ruined the back half of my anvil, cost 300 pounds of coal when I decided I didn’t want to introduce chemical heating to the mixture. I ground it on a machine half way, and then hand ground it to the point it is now. The handle is purple heart, my favorite wood, and one that doesn’t like to absorb moisture. The pommel I made by hand, and it, the guard, and nail, are all W10 tool steel. No ornamentation, no wasted space. I worked on this every day after my normal work for a month. Slow, steady, focused attention. My only surviving work.”

GM: “That all sounds very, very impressive,” Jill repeats. “I know next to nothing about swords, but it’s clear how much of yourself you’ve put into this.”

She carefully sets the sword down when Amelie touches a wet finger to it. “I sounds as if chemical heating is inferior, somehow? Is using coal the smith’s equivalent of making something by hand?”
Jill laughs again. “Well, any more than you already do, clearly.”

Amelie: “Oh! No, not at all. In fact, it’s usually superior. The difference is the heat diffusion. If you use chemical heating, you use a sword forge, which is basically a rectangle made of stone with 10 to 20 blowtorches on the inside. It’s usually great. But coal heats and radiates, it takes much longer to heat up but you get a much more complete heat at a much more complete rate. Metals react differently to heat. Shock steel is… incredibly force-resistant, and heat-resistant, so it heated to hammering temps much slower,” she explains, taking the sword back and gripping the handle like it’s made for her. It feels good to have it in her hands again, but she slowly re-sheathes it after rubbing the wet spot dry, then carefully leans it up against the wall. “I made the scabbard as well.”

GM: “Oh my, I had no idea that the type of heat used was so important to how the final product turned out. Do you hear a lot of facts like these over dinner, Christina?”

Amelie’s aunt smiles over the rim of her wineglass. “Now and again.”

“It’s that Damascus pattern I find the most remarkable,” Jill continues. “The fact the sword has a literally hidden layer of beauty to it, which no one would even notice if they didn’t think to dab water over the metal.”

Amelie: Amelie actually flushes a bit when she hears that she goes on tangents around her aunt, but clears her throat.

“Well, it’s just that type of Damascus. It’s subtle, and tightly packed. If you look close you can see it. But certain patterns can make stars, dot matrix, circles, squares, there’s even one called ‘vines and roses.’ It’s all about how you work the metals, how many layers you use, and… well, luck. No two are the same.”

GM: “That’s all fascinating, duckie, it really is. I don’t think anyone could doubt that smithing is its own form of art after listening to you talk.” She smiles. “Or seeing your pieces. Do you have your own smithy set up yet?”

Amelie: “I’ve heard it’s been likened to baking,” Amelie offers. “I don’t have anything set up yet, no. Getting all the equipment is a bit expensive. Though I just need used equipment, I can maintain and upgrade mechanics and electrics on my own.”

GM: “Well, if you won’t think I’m crass for actually bringing up figures during dinner, but how expensive is that equipment? Your aunt and I know some people who might be happy to fund more of these.” She smiles again, but this time towards the sword as well.

Amelie: Jill’s words knock Amelie off-center. The insinuation of such generosity makes her reflexively look over towards her aunt, almost for permission to talk about it.

GM: Christina simply nods encouragingly.

Amelie: It takes a moment for Amelie to tabulate the amount in her head, if only to convert the prices she knows into USD. She explains that once she has a few basics she can mostly make her own tools. She names a figure that includes the monthly rent for an industrial district space to line up with Louisiana fire code. All in all, it’s a surprisingly low figure. The most expensive thing is what she calls a ‘power hammer,’ a machine that can deftly pound around thousands of pounds of die steel to draw out billets of red-hot steel. Power hammers usually cost under ten thousand dollars.

“…I mean, I should find a used one. Hopefully an older one, they’re usually more mechanical than pneumatic.”

GM: Jill simply nods along as Amelie quotes the various figures and replies, “I’ll talk to the people I know and see what they have to say. You’re very lucky to have a piece that impressive to show off.”

“Yes, she is,” Amelie’s aunt agrees. “You need a finished piece to impress people with, but you can’t make new pieces until you’ve impressed people enough to fund you. That’s an ugly chicken and egg scenario.”

Amelie: “I likely would have had to pay out of the nose for time in an independent forge. The nearest guild is a state over, so it would have been a nightmare. I’m lucky I have a favorite aunt who could keep my pieces—my future safe,” Amelie beams. Her cheeks are already starting to feel sore after tonight’s volley of praise.

“I can make armor too. Full knightly sets. And furniture.”

GM: “Oh, you could simply pay an independent smith to use their facilities? That might actually not be a bad idea,” her aunt muses. “Or spending a weekend over in the next state. Which one is that?”

“Knightly armor. Oh my,” Jill laughs.

Amelie: Amelie winces slightly at the thought of having to go and use another blacksmith’s shop. She kept hers pristine. Barrels lined the walls like a distillery, full of pieces and scraps of certain metals. Her tanks were locked in protective cases. Her saws and presses were greased and sharpened every night. She has too many memories of yelling at her drunken father’s guest smiths ruining her space and bitching about her systems.

“It’s in Mississippi, but it’s something I’d honestly like to avoid. I like to control my environment after my accident a bit more than most people.”

GM: “We can see what the future holds so far as getting your own space, and talk about things from there. For right now, who’d care for some dessert?” her aunt asks.

“Oh, yes please,” Jill answers.

Amelie: Amelie perks up at the mention of dessert. She spares her sword one last look before leaving it where it is and returning to her seat. A sweet note isn’t a bad one to end the night on.

GM: Dessert is a chilled affair, consisting of salted vanilla ice cream with drizzled gooey brown caramel sauce and honey-roasted pecans. Even with the house’s air conditioning on, it feels just right in this weather. The city’s heat is an almost palpable thing, even past the windows and at night.

Jill and Amelie’s aunt ask a few more questions about Amelie’s work, but also talk about state and municipal politics. Neither woman seems to find it a dinner-inappropriate topic, nor do they spend much time talking about partisan issues: they mainly chuckle about about politicians’ personal dramas and how crooked officials in Louisiana are. FBI investigations into their activities sound quite common.

“The upcoming elections should be interesting ones, anyway,” Jill remarks. “There’s the mayoral race to watch in 2017, of course, and this year there’s supposed to be a challenger who wants to unseat Senator Kelly. In the primary, that is, not the general election.”

“Well, good luck to him with that,” Christina replies. “I think it’s more likely that we’re going to see Cherry making a run for the seat once Kelly finally retires or dies. That would be something to see her and Malveaux serving in DC together.”

“Oh, wouldn’t it. I’ve kept an ear out, and I hear Cherry’s daughter is now working as a waitress.”

“That poor girl. Do you think that…?”

Both of them laugh.

“I’m sure she has rather enough problems,” Jill chuckles.

“Yes, me too.”

“The poor thing, though,” Jill remarks wistfully. “It’s difficult not to want to help.”

“Yes. But in the long run she may be much better off.” Christina then turns to her niece. “Since we’re just about finished here, Amelie, Jill and I have some work-related business to discuss. Would you mind giving us some privacy?”

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet for most of dessert, letting the older adults talk as she finishes up relatively quickly. She’s sure the sugar will make it harder to sleep, but the fact she’s up past her normal bedtime should also help with that. She soaks in the politics, noting names and events, but stacks everyone’s bowls together and excuses herself once her aunt asks for privacy.

GM: When Amelie declares her intention to go to bed, Jill offers her a hug and adds, “I’m so glad to have met you, duckie, it’s clear you’re very talented,” before she leaves.

Amelie: Amelie already gave the woman a hug at the door, but leans in and gives her another one. She resolves to ask her aunt later why Jill keeps calling her ‘duckie.’

She gives Christina a small hug too, then carries her sword and an armful of dishes out of the room. She leaves the latter in the kitchen and rolls her shoulders as she heads up the stairs to wind down for the night. It’s a shame she can’t stay to hear about the two’s actual work.

There’s a pause, though, when she passes a vent in the hall and inspiration strikes. A quick mental map of the house brings her to her bathroom. She tosses the dress off her broad shoulders, sinks down to the floor and presses her ear to the grate. She slows her breath to catch the conversation downstairs.

GM: “…well, she seems sweet,” sounds Jill’s distant voice through the grill.

“Yes, she is.”

“So how has it been, living with a teenager?”

“She’s twenty, actually. But better than I expected. Especially after the home life she came from. My brother-in-law is a real piece of shit.” There’s a faint noise that might be Amelie’s aunt sipping from her wine. “She’s been very responsible, though, and seems to be looking towards her future. Some of her ideas are a little harebrained, but that’s the important thing. I thought about asking her if she wanted to see a therapist at first, but I don’t think she needs one.”

There’s a pause before Christina continues, “It’s still had its ups and downs, though. Her school wants to expel her.”

“Oh, no, what for?” Jill asks.

“For ‘behaviors at odds with the values of the school and posing a disruptive influence to the academic and social success of other students.’”

“Ah, yes. She doesn’t quite fit in with that crowd, does she?”

“No. She doesn’t,” Amelie’s aunt answers. “Maybe enrolling her at McGehee wasn’t realistic of me, especially when she’s older than all the other students. The women there all know who I am, too. God knows they wouldn’t have admitted any relative of mine without your friend.”

Amelie: Amelie stays rigid and unmoving as she lays there, but it’s all she can do to contain her emotions when the realizations dawn on her. Of course she couldn’t trust a school therapist. Of course even mentioning ruining the school’s perfect little college acceptance numbers would make her enemies. That’s odd all the women would know her aunt, too. Is she a wedding ring chaser? A gossip?

It hurts when her aunt calls her ideas harebrained, but she pushes that to the back of her mind. Of course her future isn’t solid, of course what she does isn’t stable. It’s… complicated.

Still, she stays quiet as a mouse, feeling a little numb as she keeps listening.

GM: “She could make this go away too,” Jill offers.

“I’ve asked you for enough favors,” Christina answers. “We can do that if I’m not able to make the school back down on my own.”

“So what are your options there? Could you appeal to the board of trustees?”

Amelie’s aunt might shake her head at this point, but she can’t make out anything besides ventilation ducts. “No. We’d be able to fight this if it were a public school. Private schools operate under contract law. They can essentially throw her out for whatever reason. I can still sue, though, which is what I’ve been threatening.”

“They don’t know you’re disbarred?” There’s some amusement in Jill’s voice.

“No. They don’t know me as well as they think.” There’s the faintest smirk to her aunt’s voice at those words. “Not that it matters, I’d hire another lawyer even if I wasn’t. But people are usually more intimidated when they think you’re the lawyer.”

Amelie: Amelie starts planning already how she can help her aunt make this right. There’s people in the school who can help for sure: teachers who like her, the headmistress, even that career counselor. She’ll just need to draw less attention and do more under the radar ass-kissing.

GM: “How much have you scared the headmistress, then?” Jill asks with a similarly audible slight smirk.

“She was willing, for now, to essentially put Amelie on probation, and have her attend regular meetings with the school psychologist, who will teach her how to fit in. Her assignment this week is to go to a school dance.”

“That’s not too bad,” Jill replies.

“I agree. It’s not. She could stand to meet some people closer to her age than you or me. Though I’m not sure the girls at McGhee are ideal there either, or even that it’s necessary. She’s getting good grades despite coming from a bad place, and I don’t want to push her too hard.”

“But it was either that or deal with her being expelled,” Jill fills in.

“Yes. What’s that quote, ‘there are no good options in this city, only ones which are less distasteful’?”

“Too true.”

“A dance with boys should also quiet down the headmistress’ ‘fluidity in gender identity’ complaint,” Christina continues. “She all but said that she thought Amelie was going to rape the other girls. Especially with how she’s older than they all are.”

Amelie: Amelie rolls her eyes so hard she almost feels them pop out her head and hit the bathroom floor.

GM: “I said that she cut her hair short because she’s a smith, and long hair is an occupational hazard.”

“That does make sense. I suppose it could easily catch on fire.” Jill laughs. “You didn’t really say that though, did you?”

“No. I just said she wasn’t gay and there was no need to consider conversion therapy. Lord knows I wouldn’t have paid for that anyways.”

“So would you say things are in hand, then?” Jill asks. “No need to bring in anyone else?”

“No,” Christina replies. “Not at this point. And some of what the school wants to impress upon her is actually a good idea. I mean, god knows the bit about being a sexual predator was a load of nonsense, but they do want to encourage her to apply for college.”

“You think she should do that?” Jill asks.

“I think it’s more that she doesn’t grasp the impact that the decision could have on her future, especially her business plans,” Christina replies. “She doesn’t believe she needs to attend college because she already knows her trade. Well, that’s fair, you saw that sword of hers yourself.”

“Oh, yes.”

“But she wants to start this expensive-sounding business, all by herself. Who is going to provide startup capital to a random 21-year-old with only a high school diploma? She says she knows people at McGehee who’ll contribute funds, but behind her back they want to expel her. She even cited her therapist’s husband, for goodness’ sake, the woman who said her ‘gender is unanchored because her mind is unanchored.’ Or because her father abused her, whatever nonsense that was.”

“Mmm, yes,” Jill seems to nod. “Her work does speak for itself. But work can speak very quietly next to other things.”

“Right,” Christina agrees. “She doesn’t know how to deal with the sorts of people who go to McGehee, on any basis besides the relative merit of her ideas.”

“My, that sounds cynical,” Jill offers.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Christina says with a sigh. “I have to remind myself that she is only twenty.”

“Well, you never did want to be a mother. I think it’s only fair to need the occasional reminder.”

“Yes. That’s true.”

“It’s not as if I know much better how to deal with teenagers or near-teenagers, anyway…” Jill briefly trails off. “Nathalie passed before Amelie’s age.”

“How are things moving along there?” Christina asks quietly.

Amelie strains her ears against the grate. Whatever response Jill gives is too muted for her to pick up.

Silence, or perhaps further inaudible conversation passes between the two. Amelie briefly wonders if her aunt has shown Jill to the door, or if they’ve simply moved to another room, until Jill speaks up, “But let’s talk about yours.”

“All right. Where was I?”

“About her still being twenty and thinking if you work hard you’ll succeed.”

“Now who’s being cynical?” Christina asks.

Whatever reply Jill gives seems to be nonverbal, or perhaps she simply doesn’t before Amelie’s aunt goes on, “I suppose that’s the thing I need to impart, anyways. How these people would be flinging money her way if she was one of them, but she’s not. Say she somehow scrapes together funding, and starts up the business. Then what? Does she know how to balance books? Advertise? Attract customers among the people here, image brand herself, deal with suppliers? Manage employees, if she doesn’t intend to do everything herself? She’s a stellar smith, obviously, but that doesn’t mean she’s qualified to run a business. Especially at twenty.”

“Do you think she’s not?”

“I don’t know whether she is or not, to be honest. She’s not lived with me for very long. But she’s not considering all of the details. Such as renting a space, when she has no meaningful credit history, or-”

“Details, Christina.”

“Yes. I think she might be better off simply working under another smith, at least initially. She’d still get to do what she loves, but without any of the risks, responsibilities, and plain extra work of starting her own business.”

“And you’d like her to go to college.”

“I think that would be a very good idea. I have no idea whether there’s even any smiths in the city who could or would take her on. But going to college, she could open so many doors for herself. Both as a business owner and in case the business doesn’t pan out. I’m even paying extra for her to take AP classes, which there’s no point in taking unless you go to college. She’s very serious about her studies, but I don’t think she gets how no one cares about high school grades outside of college admissions.”

“Mmm. She did say she wanted to attend MIT. But…”

“Yes, that’s obviously a pipe dream,” Christina fills in. “It’s the same as McGehee, except we don’t have any pull there.”

“So why doesn’t she want to attend college?” Jill asks. “You said she’d been enjoying her schoolwork.”

“Student debt, I think.”

“Hmm. Well, I could ask around, see about scholarships or early-issue grants or anything else like that.”

“I wouldn’t say no. I obviously don’t have any kind of college fund set up for her.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t usually get emotional. She prides herself on having her mother’s stone face. But she’s forced to put her hand over her mouth as she lays there. She bites into its bandages to hold back the stinging feeling in her eyes that threatens to rip a sob from her throat. She doesn’t let it, but grips the grate and forces herself to face the truth. That for the first time in her life, she can’t brute force this.

She presses her face closer, trying to hear more.

GM: “Do you plan to talk with her about this?” Jill asks.

“After things have settled a bit. When the bandages come off her hand, at least.”

“I saw that. How did she get those?”

“Some lunatic attacked her in the Quarter. She was lucky to get away. Even luckier not to suffer any lasting damage to her hands, or to even be that traumatized.”

“Oh, that’s very lucky. I’ve told you about that friend of mine, the pianist, who had his hands crushed.”

“He wasn’t so lucky.”

Amelie: All Amelie can think is too late. It’s difficult to calm down, but the rational voice still kicking around in her head tries to convince her that this is a good thing. A good step.

GM: “Yes, he wasn’t,” Jill replies. “Do you plan to talk with Amelie about all this—the school wanting to expel her, that is—or keep it under wraps?”

“Oh, she has enough to deal with right now. Mrs. Achord said that the two of them got along, so hopefully that will continue while I take care of things behind the scenes. And who knows. Maybe she’ll learn to fit in better at school. That’ll help even after she graduates.”

“For certainly,” Jill agrees. “One last piece of advice. However things pan out for college, don’t let her take any money from the Whitneys.”

“You’ve had some dealings with them.”

“I know what I’m dealing with.”

“Warren has had more than one of my girls star in his films,” Amelie’s aunt replies.

“Take my advice please, Christina.”

There’s a pause. “All right, I will.”

“Speaking of Warren though, has he had any ‘interesting’ requests lately?” Jill asks.

“He’s seen some new snuff films. Real ones. He’s taking a break from directing his own fake snuffs to directing ‘remakes’ with Kristina.” Amelie’s aunt continues more amusedly, “She wasn’t sure what to charge him initially. She thought to treat it like a PSE, but that didn’t seem quite ‘it.’ Half the time he doesn’t even fuck her. He just slashes fake blood packets over her neck, stages a faux hanging, or what have you.”

Jill laughs. “That second one is new.”

“It’s fairly simple how they do it. The noose around her neck is real, but she wears a harness around her torso that holds her up. It did mean she couldn’t be fully naked during the hanging, though, which Warren was disappointed by. I’m sure a real studio could manage it, but this is obviously a ‘home’ production. And he wants it to feel authentic.”

“Yes, authentic,” Jill remarks. “Do you know yet where he’s seeing these real snuffs?”

“Not yet,” Amelie’s aunt replies. “I’ve told Kristina to ask him about it when he’s in a talkative mood after some fucking. And to get some wine in him first.”

“Good,” Jill concurs. “Warren likes to pretend-play at being the debauched sybarite. But after enough play someone might be able to tempt him into the real thing.”

“You think he has it in him to kill Kristina?” Christina asks.

“Everyone has that in them,” Jill answers. “It’s only a question of what draws it out.”

“Hmm. I’d say about as much as anyone else, to be quite honest. Maybe less. You think someone is pushing him in that direction?”

“Someone would certainly stand to benefit from doing so. A tape where the Whitney heir murders an escort would be excellent blackmail material,” Jill replies. “Something like that would be so very hard to stage.”

“I could pull Kristina out. But if Warren can’t use her, he’ll just find some other girl,” Amelie’s aunt considers. “If you’re right.”

“If I’m right,” Jill agrees. “If she can find out more about those snuffs from Warren, then we can make moves of our own.”

“Until that time, then,” Christina finishes. “I could go for some more ice cream. What about you?”

“Just one scoop, please.”

“One scoop,” Amelie’s aunt echoes.

There are a few further sounds of movement, but no longer any discernible voices.

Amelie: Amelie’s initial burst of emotion has long since cooled, but it’s plummeted to the opposite end of the spectrum. She can feel her veins turn to ice as she listens, eyes and mouth wide open. The hand she was biting just a moment ago clamps over her dropped jaw as if to keep it attached and silent at the same time.

She remembers her day out with Kristina. How normal she seemed. Now she realizes that money may have come from Kristina getting faux-hanged, and in danger of the real thing, every day she spends with this maniac. The snuff films are almost secondary to the fact that the two speak so casually about them, or that someone she touched hands with played them out.

But the worst of it all is her aunt and that kind lady she met today. They act as though this is normal. An everyday reality.

Amelie remembers her first night in New Orleans. She remembers driving by the grave of Josie Arlington. She remembers Tantsy’s choked words about the world and its ugliness. Most of all, she desperately tries to remember the kindness and care that her aunt has shown her. But maybe that just makes it worse.

The young woman’s mind races as she slowly slides to her feet, creeps over to the door, and locks it from the inside. She turns the lights out and sits on the bed with her sword, processing everything she’s just heard.

She lives with a madame. A woman who was disbarred from practicing law and now pimps out women, maybe even ones her own age.

The clock ticks. Amelie lies in bed with wide-open eyes and grips her sword’s scabbard through her half-buttoned shirt. She stares into the dark until the emotions bottom out. Finally, exhaustion grips her brain, and plunges her into nightmares.

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Caroline Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story One, Victoria Prelude II

Previous, by Character: Story One, Amelie VII
Next, by Character: Story One, Amelie IX, Caroline I

Story One, Victoria Prelude I

Saturday night, 24 October 1998, PM

GM: Sometimes, at night, she hears them.

Her parents.

Her real ones. Not her foster ones. Her latest foster ones treat her like she is invisible. They talk about her like she is not there. The whole family seems like they are plastic with their perma-grins—the mother, the father, and their real kid. Sylvia is not sure what to expect or how long she is going to be there. The family walks around her like she is an alien. Sometimes they say they are leaving and will be back later. She has no idea where they go or when they will come back home.

There’s food in the fridge, at least. She has a room to herself, though not anymore since the other two girls arrived today. She’s nine. She’s not how sure old they are. No one tells her. They’re smaller than she is, for what that’s worth. They don’t talk to her. They don’t talk to anyone. Maybe they’re wondering when this will be over and what will happen to them. Sylvia has wondered the latter, but never the former. Foster care is all she has known. She’s heard about families that fight to get their kids back. Families who leave their kids with phone numbers. Maybe the girls would talk if they had those.

Sometimes Sylvia thinks back to the parents who gave her up. Who were they? A child’s mind wonders, and in the dark, she sees them.

“I’m a magic princess, Sylvie,” says a beautiful woman in a shimmering gown. “That makes you a princess, too!”

“I’m a magic prince, Sylvie,” says a handsome man in a knight’s shining armor. “I’d kill a dragon to keep you safe!”

“I’m a doctor, Sylvie,” says a kindly-eyed woman in a white coat. “I’m gonna make you better.”

“I’m a firefighter, Sylvie,” says a rugged man with a yellow helmet.

A veterinarian. An astronaut. A cowboy. A president. Her parents are all sorts of things, and they always love Sylvie.

That happens less often than it used to. Fantasies like those are for little kids.

No, as she’s gotten older, her parents have told her they are other things instead. Words some of her other caregivers have used.

“I’m a deadbeat, Sylvie.”

“I’m a bum, Sylvie.”

“I’m a whore, Sylvie.”

“I’m a junkie, Sylvie.”

She doesn’t understand what all of the words mean. But she understands enough.

Sometimes, though, they don’t say anything at all.

Sometimes she just sees their faces, rising up like shadows from under the bed and engulfing her. She tries to scream, but nothing comes out past the weight suffocating down on her chest.

She can’t breathe. She can’t see. She feels everything. Sweat stains her sheets as her heart pounds. It feels like someone is looking at her in the room, but when she opens her eyes, there’s never anyone there.

A social worker talked to Sylvie once, about how she slept. She referred Sylvie to someone else, who said she suffered from night terrors and gave pills for her to take. Pills with a long name that started with ‘k.’ They made her feel dizzy and weak, and sometimes gave her headaches.

But she stopped seeing her parents.

That was worth it.

Sylvie knows what it’s like, to have the night terrors.

It’s how she recognizes the expression on her new foster sister’s face.

It’s hard to make out faces in the dark. But she recognizes the silent crying, .

She recognizes the contours of the mouth, pulled into an unmistakable whimper.

And, above all:

She recognizes the dark figure looming over the frozen girl, hands descending over her small body.

Victoria: Always, at night, she hears them.

“Mama’s got her sweets, just like you, baby. You want a cookie?”

She always wanted a cookie. She still does.

“If you’re good while mama has her treat, you’ll get as many cookies as you want.”

She doesn’t trust offers of cookies anymore. Not unless she can see them. Promises just bring disappointment. They bring disappointment.

Every mama and papa brings disappointment. Her last mama said that the girls that get the most mamas become the smartest. It makes sense. She gets new a new mama every few months ‘cause she’s got nothin’ left to learn from ’em.

So Sylvia was a good girl, just like mama asked. She thought about those cookies. Would they be chocolate chip? Mocha almond fudge? Vanilla glazed?

She wondered why mama had bruises on her arm. Maybe that’s why she had a shot next to her. Shots fix everything, including bruises! Sylvia doesn’t like shots. She doesn’t like doctors either. She doesn’t remember seeing a doctor around the house. She was probably too busy thinking about her cookies.

Mama never gave her those cookies. The men with flashing lights on their cars never gave her cookies. The wrinkly woman in the doctor place never gave her cookies.

She doesn’t trust offers of cookies anymore.

Her parents visited her that night.

“You got no cookies? Then you weren’t a good girl. Good girls get cookies. Are you going to be a good girl, Sylvia?”

Sylvie is always a good girl. She slides out of bed, her small feet touching the dingy, carpet floor soundlessly. Her sister won’t be giving her any cookies, but she knows that look; those whimpers, and that blank, fearful stare.

Brandi’s mom is visiting her.

Sylvia doesn’t like when her mom visits. Brandi must not either. Brandi hasn’t spoken to her, but Sylvie wants her new sister to like her. People like when you help them, right?

She sees the figure standing over her sister, beady eyes glinting in the darkness like her third mama’s jewels. The jewels didn’t scare her. The beating when she took them did. The man reminds her of her mama’s anger.

Her eyes well up. She didn’t do anything wrong! Brandi didn’t either!

“You leave her be!” she hisses, eyes darting to the bedroom door. Her feet hit the frayed carpet soundlessly as she creeps toward her sister.

“She ain’t want to talk to you!”

GM: The figure turns to Sylvia.

Tall and dark, it fairly towers above her, a monolith in the gloom.

Up close, she can see one of its hands sticking down the pants of Brandi’s PJs.

It stares at her for a long moment. She feels so small beneath its gaze.

Silently, the thing lifts a finger towards where a face should be.

The universal sign for:


Just go back to sleep, Sylvie.

Victoria: She shivers as if the figure poured ice water down the back of her nightgown.

It’s just a bad dream. Just a bad dream. Just a bad dream. Just a bad dream.

She stomps her foot in impish anger and throws her pillow at it.

GM: The pillow hits the looming figure square in the face.

It stumbles backwards as it raises its hands.

Its back his the light switch.

Light floods the gloom.

Sylvie’s looking up at her foster father’s face, absent only its plastic perma-grin.

Brandi, her PJ bottoms still pulled down, stares dully up.

Victoria: The cub’s resolve wavers, confusion plain on her face.

She isn’t sure whether to hide, to cower, or to stand up to him.

GM: For several moments, her foster father doesn’t look sure what to do either.

Krista stirs in bed next to Brandi.

“Go back to sleep,” says their foster dad.

Then he turns off the light, walks out, and closes the door behind him.

Brandi starts quietly crying.

Victoria: Sylvie purses her lips, counting the creaks in the floor until she’s certain he’s gone, then crosses to Brandi’s bed.

She pauses, wrapping her arms around Brandi’s twiggy body and murmurs, “It’s okay. You get used to it.”

Sylvie never has. She probably never will. She doesn’t want any foster sister to have to, but she lies because the alternative is worse: to be tossed back into the machine. She’ll probably be back there tomorrow.

Or tomorrow night will be her turn.

Sunday morning, 25 October 1998

GM: Sylvie’s first guess is the correct one.

Tomorrow morning, her foster mother drops her off at the now-familiar DCFS building. She tells the social workers that Sylvie was “too problematic” and “completely out of control.”

Just like that, she’s tossed back into the machine.


Victoria: Sylvie looks around. This is life. This is all there is. No good deed rewarded. No cookie. They even kept her stuffie.

She huffs.

She wonders what life will be like for Brandi. How long until they tire of her? Will she even fight back?

GM: Sylvie will probably never know.

She overhears from one of the social workers, talking to her co-worker, that foster parents aren’t actually supposed to do this. They’re supposed to call their assigned social worker and try to work things out within a week, or within the day in an emergency situation where the child is causing or threatening violence or sexual assault. You’re not supposed to just drop the kid back off.

No one does anything. The social workers are all overworked, and foster families are all-too few. Sylvie knows how this whole process works by now. She sits somewhere out of the way. A harried-looking social worker spend the next few hours running through the master bed list, of all the available families who can take in a child on emergency notice. Usually they are temporary, and Sylvie gets bounced to another home, or two, or even three, before another family takes her in. Maybe they will be good. Maybe they will be bad. Eventually, they’ll get rid of Sylvie too.

Then she’ll be right back here in the DCFS building, with a social worker on the phone.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: And Sylvie wants no one.

She hops off the plastic, orange chair, wandering across the room. She stops in front of a vending machine, aglow inside. So many treats, just out of reach. They didn’t even feed her before they got rid of her. That’s common.

She huffs.

GM: Maybe if she had parents who loved her and wanted her, she’d get to eat as much as she wanted from vending machines.

Several hours later, Sylvie’s case worker drives her to a new home. The woman there has three of her own children and another foster child, a boy. She blatantly puts her real kids first. Sylvie and the boy eat boiled hot dogs and potato chips on paper plates almost nightly. The woman’s real kids come home with O’Tolley’s that Sylvie and the boy aren’t allowed to have. Sylvie and the boy do all sorts of chores like pulling weeds and vacuuming. The woman’s real kids don’t have to do anything. Sylvie and the boy aren’t allowed to watch TV. The woman’s real kids steal Sylvie’s clothes and the few belongings she’s brought from her previous home.

Victoria: Sylvie punches the boy in the mouth when she catches him stealing.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.

Wednesday morning, 28 October 1998

GM: The foster parents let their sobbing boy keep everything of Sylvie’s that he wants. She’s left with nothing but the clothes on her back. Sylvie’s case worker drives her to a home outside of the city that has a basement, a rarity in New Orleans proper. The foster mother is a super couponer. The shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with cereals and cleaning supplies. Sylvie sleeps on the cold, hard basement floor with some blankets and pillows with two other girls. When she wakes up in the morning, she’s covered in red and angry-looking bug bites.

Victoria: Sylvie shrieks.

Her foster mother learns that Sylvie has quite a sailor’s dictionary. She’s usually smart enough not to use it, but the panic of her bite-ridden skin throws all caution to the wind.

GM: Sylvie’s foster mother tells her to stop telling lies, and to stop swearing or she’s going back.

Victoria: “I’m NOT lying!”

She holds out her arms.

“They’re EVERYWHERE! Those little niggers bit me!”

She doesn’t know what it means, but that man sounded real angry when she heard him say it the other day. Whatever they are, they’re not a good thing.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.

Thursday morning, 29 October 1998

GM: Sylvie’s next home is in a nice-looking suburb. The foster parents are nice. They’re kind and gentle and generous. There’s no other kids. Sylvie has a room of her own, with a real bed, and the mom makes spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Sylvie can eat as much as she wants.

“Things are going to be better for you here, okay?” the foster mom smiles as she applies disinfectant over Sylvie’s bug bites. “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Victoria: Sylvie doesn’t believe them. It’s never going to be better. Never has. Never will.

She eats her dinner, but only half the plate.

At her foster mom’s words, she nods, but it doesn’t touch her eyes. She doesn’t believe her.

GM: Her foster mom smiles sadly and pats her off. The rest of the day passes pleasantly. Sylvie gets to watch a lot of TV. She goes to school on Friday. She’s used to being the new girl, and being the outsider looking in. But it feels like everyone points and laughs at her partly-healed bug bites. They ask her if she’s poor.

Victoria: She punches the one who asks if she’s poor, too. Punching is the easy answer to bullies.

GM: The bully runs off, crying. They never seem to want to stand and fight.

When Sylvie gets off the school bus, on a typically rainy afternoon, a gang of kids chase after her. They hold her face-down against the wet earth and beat her senseless. They kick her sides until she wants to curl up and die. They steal her backpack and leave her clothes caked in mud.

They don’t say why. They don’t say anything.

They just hurt her and leave.

Victoria: Maybe that’s why they beat her while she walks home. She screams, and whimpers, and whines, and covers her face. She doesn’t fight back. She doesn’t have a chance. They don’t give her one.

She walks in the door to her foster home, sobbing.

GM: Her foster parents freak when they see her. The mom leaves the room. The dad recovers after a moment. He’s nice. He hugs Sylvie, despite the mud she gets on his clothes. He listens to her choked story, says how sorry he is, and asks for the kids’ names so he can call the school about them. He takes Sylvie up to the bathroom, where she can have a long, hot bath or shower, and applies band-aids like his wife applied disinfectant. He applies some of that again, anyway, and says they should probably have a doctor look at Sylvie. When was the last time she had a checkup? He lets her watch TV and eat ice cream.

Victoria: The shower is bliss, but the heat of the water stings her bruises, cuts and bug bites. Still, she feels better after than before.

The disinfectant burns.

She doesn’t like doctors. Except the one who gave her a lollipop.

GM: That night, while she’s sleeping in her bed, Sylvie hears voices arguing.

The next day, the foster mom tells her that she’s leaving.

The dad looks sad. He tells her that he’s sorry.

And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.

Saturday morning, 31 October 1998

Victoria: And just like that, she’s back at DCFS.

She sits in front of the vending machine, looking up at it.

Still locked. Still beyond her. Still above her.

Nobody wants Sylvie. Nobody ever wants Sylvie. Not her mom. Not her dad. Not any of her foster parents. Not her foster siblings. Not her schools. Not her teachers. Not her classmates. Not her social workers. No one.

Sylvie is used goods; a callous on the foot of the foster system, abused, toughened, and ugly.

She wonders here and there if it’s her fault. Maybe she’s a little too aggressive sometimes, but only when others push her to it. She’s not the smartest. She’s not the prettiest.

This one felt a little different for the first few days. Her foster mom was kind. She got along well with her foster dad. He even tended to her when she was attacked by those kids from school.

They yelled. Not at her, but it’s still her fault.

It would be easier if they yelled at her. Maybe she’d still be there.

GM: All she wants is someone to love her.

For a little, it seems like she even did.

It would be easier if they just yelled.

Used goods.

That’s a phrase that will stick in Sylvie’s head.

Sylvie’s next home is another one out in the suburbs. The parents have one real kid, a younger boy, and another foster kid, an older girl. She’s nice and lets Sylvie play her Gameboy. She’s very sympathetic, if Sylvia shares her story about her last home, and says how sorry she is. She says she’s been in the foster system for a while and “gets it.” She says she’s been with this family since she was 12. She’s 17 and turns 18 tomorrow, she says. She says that Sylvie can have a home here.

Victoria: Sylvie has never held a Gameboy before! She’s absolutely terrible at it, but the time she spends with her foster-sister is valuable.

Kindness goes a long way with used goods.

GM: On the girl’s birthday the next day, the parents bake her a cake. Double-layered chocolate. Sylvie sings happy birthday along with their real kid, and gets a big slice with a vanilla ice cream scoop.

Later in the night, the parents tell the girl she needs to move out because she’s 18. She doesn’t say a word in response. Later, Sylvie hears her sobbing herself to sleep.

Sylvie’s had temporary foster siblings before. She thinks this one sets a new record. Just one night.

Victoria: Upon hearing the sobbing, Sylvie crawls into bed with the girl, hugging her. She doesn’t say anything to her.

GM: The girl is inconsolable. She squeezes Sylvie like a teddy bear and sobs into her hair. She doesn’t say anything either. She just sobs and shakes for what feels like hours. Sylvie will remember that, the sensation of her trembling like a leaf in the wind. She remembers how her hair is still wet from her foster sister’s tears when she wakes up.

She hopes it does the girl some good, to know that someone else cares.

She’s gone the next morning. The parents complain about how she didn’t give them “a very loving goodbye” and just left her key.

Then they serve Sylvie a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and waffles with maple syrup.

Victoria: She eats her breakfast tentatively and asks what happened to her foster sister.

GM: “She’ll be fine,” her foster dad smiles, and then never talks about her again.

Sylvie gets to keep the Gameboy.

Victoria: Something in her foster dad’s tone ensures that Sylvia never asks about her either. She never forgets her name, though. It’s written on her Gameboy, and on all the files in all the games inside.

She hopes the girl is okay. Where do you go once you turn 18? Are you given a real family?

GM: Sylvie’s heard about that before. How once you turn 18, you “age out.” They say that a lot. “Age out.” No one says exactly what happens, though.

Her new foster family doesn’t either.

Victoria: Nine years to go. Sylvie can’t remember anything before her fifth birthday, and she’s 9 now, so she’s got more than half her life to go, by her logic.

Not for her to worry about today.

Of course, she worries. Will she be told to leave, too?

GM: Her new family never answers that question.

Life with them is all right. Sylvie is fed and cared for, and goes to a suburban public school where most of the kids are white, there’s no graffiti on the walls, and the teachers are nice. None of the kids seem like they want to be her friends. No one sits with her at lunch, but at least they don’t beat her up after school.

Victoria: For the first time in years, Sylvia not only managers to keep her hands to herself, but doesn’t even have the desire to harm any of her classmates. She even tries talking to them; tries to make friends.

They don’t want it, but they don’t rebuke her either.

That’s better than the usual.

GM: At home, Sylvie eats with the family and their real son for dinner, and there’s always plenty of food. She’s told to go to her room when they have guests over. Her foster parents bring up a plate to eat by herself, though they never say why she can’t join them.

That Christmas, Sylvie and her foster brother open up lots of presents under the tree, and get lots of chocolates in their stockings. They get equally many. Her foster parents ask her to stay out, though, when they take pictures of themselves. They take several, all without her, and declare how beautiful the pictures are.

It was like that with the pictures on Santa’s lap at the mall, too. Her foster parents also wanted her to stay out of those.

Victoria: When holidays come, Sylvia wonders why she isn’t included in family photographs. She puts on a brave face. She says she understands.

Deep down, she isn’t brave, and she doesn’t understand. Don’t they want her, too? She’s not part of the family—but isn’t she part of the family?

She feels like the family dog. They aren’t included in photos with Santa, either. Can people be pets, too?

GM: Sylvie’s foster parents do include the dog, a golden retriever, in one of the photos. Their real son drapes wrapping paper over the dog and laughs. Sylvie gets to do that too. The dog is a pretty good sport about it all. Her dad smiles and tussles her hair, then asks her to “move out” when he takes the picture of his son playing with the dog.

Another year and another Christmas passes. Sylvia gets presents again, but isn’t included in any photos either.

Then one day, shortly after winter break ends, Sylvie’s case worker picks her up from school. She’s got Sylvie’s things in her car, including the Gameboy. She says she’s “really sorry,” but that Sylvie has to go to a new home.

Her foster parents never say goodbye.

And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.

Monday morning, 10 January 2000

Victoria: This one hurts. She cries the entire way to DCFS, and doesn’t stop crying until her tears run dry. It doesn’t stop her hiccuping.

“I—I… but… they lo—”

Love you? If they love you, you’d still be there.

She’ll miss the dog most of all. There were no conditions on his love.

“Wh-why?” she asks the social worker. “Wh-wh-wh-what d-d-did I do wr-wrong?”

GM: Her case worker’s heart looks like it’s breaking for Sylvie as she drives.

“They… they couldn’t keep you. I’m so sorry, Sylvie. I’m so, so sorry.”

That’s all she says, when Sylvie asks. That they “couldn’t keep you.” She repeats how sorry she is.

She never says why.

But Sylvie knows why. It’s just a simple truth.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: At least she has her Gameboy. She wonders where the sister who gave it to her is now. She treasures that stupid thing, not because of the fun it provides, but because it reminds her: she made it to ‘aging out’, and so can Sylvie.

She continues crying.

GM: Her case worker tries to comfort her.

But it only lasts until they get back to DCFS, and she needs to find a new home for the unwanted foster child.

Sylvie’s next home is a “group home” in Bywater. It’s a big house and looks expensive and well-kept. The man who runs it is tall, thin, and blonde. He gives his name as Jacob. He’s very excitable and tells Sylvie a riveting story about Hansel and Gretel and the evil witch with the gingerbread house. He tells her and the other kids stories about monsters and magic and fairies and Indians, some in the deep dark German woods, some in the hot Texas sun. He tells the most incredible stories Sylvie’s ever heard. The other dozen-odd kids are all spellbound listening to him.

Victoria: She only stops crying because no one wants a crying girl. They don’t want a strong girl, either. Whatever Sylvia is, they don’t want.

She’s glum when she’s given her next home, only smiling when she’s addressed. After all, she can’t seem completely destroyed, or she’ll end up right back where she was before.

It still hurts. She’s infected, and the virus is ripping apart her insides.

She misses the dog.

She barely hears the story.

GM: Sylvie doesn’t seem to be the only one who doesn’t. For all that the story entrances, some of the other kids look half-ready to fall asleep. The kid next to Sylvie, a South Asian girl who’s missing a leg and walks with a crutch, actually zonks off against her shoulder.

The blond man tells Sylvie welcome to her new home, then it’s time for bed. There are dormitories. Everyone gets their own bunk, but there’s lots of bunks to a room. Once Jacob is gone, the other kids show their colors. An older boy with a mean smile demands that Sylvie hand over the Gameboy or else, “I’ll beat the SHIT out of you!”

Victoria: She gives him one warning. Just one.

GM: The older boy laughs and grabs at the Gameboy.

“You asked for it!”

Victoria: She feeds it to him, teeth in the way be damned.

GM: The Gameboy leaves him with a satisfying split lip.

Unfortunately, he pays it back, with interest. He punches her in the face, kicks her to the ground, and then kicks her in the gut until she can’t move from pain. Then he takes the Gameboy and spits on her.

Victoria: It hurts, just like it hurt the day she was attacked walking home from school. Sylvie can take a punch better than most, but he still renders her broken on the floor.

Still worth it. It’s always worth it standing up to bullies.

GM: Jacob isn’t around much. It’s several days later because the only other adult in the house, a 30something African-American woman, gives Sylvie the Gameboy back and apologizes. It’s got a tooth-like dent near the screen, but still works.

Victoria: She takes it, thanking the woman awkwardly.

“How did you find out?” she asks, thumbing the dent. She isn’t sure whether it’s from her hitting him with it, or him trying to eat it. Fatass.

GM: “Saw him playing on it,” answers the harried-looking staffer. “Figured it was from you. Don’t know how else he’d have gotten one.”

Victoria: “Thank you. It’s important to me. What happened to him?”

How polite. She really means it.

GM: “Sorry?” the woman asks, confused.

“Oh. You mean was he punished?”

Victoria: She nods.

GM: The woman pauses for a second, then says,

“He won’t get to listen to story hour for two days, since that’s how long he had it. Fair?”

It sounds like she made that up on the spot.

The woman has deep bags under her eyes. She’s pale and messy-haired. She looks completely exhausted.

Victoria: She likes that. She’s punishing him just because Sylvia wants him to be.

That feels nice.


GM: Was it meant as a deal? But the woman just nods and heads off.

It’s a deal in practice, if not in intent.

That interaction proves emblematic. Care in the group home is lackadaisical at best. Jacob is barely around. The woman has her hands full just cooking for all the kids, cleaning their messes, getting them dressed, and getting them to the school bus; everything else is optional. Including actually going to school. Sylvie watches many of the kids just run off after they leave the house, not even waiting for the school bus. It’s their secret, open to everyone except the adults.

Victoria: Sylvie protects her Gameboy like a dictator protects his people: with poor care, and an iron fist. After the first interaction, anyone who so much as glances at it is confronted. Some taste grass.

Sylvie doesn’t care about school. Once she learns that she doesn’t have to get on the school bus, it all but disappears from her thoughts. School is where the bullies are. At least if she hangs out with the bullies here, they bother her less. She’s one of them. They may not like her the best, but it’s better than being the nerd who leaves them to learn about men in triangle hats and why a triangle isn’t a circle.

GM: Some of the kids offer to let Sylvie come along to get ice cream with them. They steal the money from Jacob, they say. He’s absentminded and doesn’t seem to notice, when he’s around to notice. He’s happy to play the family man at dinner with his stories. His only real rules are not to go into his rooms and not to damage the willow tree he keeps outside. He tells Sylvie and the other kids, dead serious, that it’s a fairy tree. It’s alternately made from goblins and dragons and nymphs. Very dangerous.

Sylvie quickly picks up that the kids all put on nice and obedient faces for the story hours Jacob hosts during every dinner, the only time he regularly sees them, and then it’s every kid for themselves. The other staffer barely keeps the tide of anarchy at bay. Kids cry all the time, get in scrapes, cause messes, act out, swear, sob, or get sick and lie in bed all day. Lots of them seem to get sick. Lots of them seem to have behavioral issues. Lots of them pick fights and steal from each other. At various points, kids just go missing. Sylvie never finds out what happens to them. The other kids think they run away.

Victoria: She’s less easy about stealing from Jacob, but her desire to be wanted outweighs her morals. She never helps steal it, but not does she stop them. It’s a tenuous compromise.

Some nights, she cries about it. Jacob is a nice dad. He doesn’t deserve to be stolen from.

GM: The kids buy things with the money they steal. Candy. Comic books. Even cigarettes. Sometimes they share with Sylvie.

Jacob never says anything about the missing money.

Victoria: Sylvie tries a cigarette, if they let her. She chokes on it. She prefers the candy.

She wonders about the willow tree. Some days, she sits in front of it, waiting for goblins and faeries and dragons to appear. Sometimes, if she stares long enough, she can swear she sees them peek from knots and branches.

They never fully come out. They don’t want Sylvie either.

GM: The willow tree’s only goblins and faeries and dragons appear to lie in the patterns of its leaves. Sylvie can make out all sorts of things in those, if she stares hard enough for long enough. It’s easier to see faces than mythical creatures, though. The tree looks a lot like a lady’s face at the right angle. She can even pretend the wind whistling through its leaves is a voice, sometimes.

But it never says anything she can make out.

No one wants Sylvie.

Victoria: Eventually, she asks the woman if the faeries ever talk to her.

GM: The woman says that yes, the faeries sometimes do. You can’t make them, though. They’ll talk when they feel like talking.

Victoria: “Do they ever talk to you?”

Sylvie watches the leaves and trees and knots and branches, but she never quite sees any mythical creatures.

GM: The woman says she just answered that.

One day, Jacob says he’s going to be out of town on a business trip. They’ll be in good hands. That turns out to be untrue when the woman disappears several days later. The house goes into complete free fall, with that. Kids destroy furniture. They leave giant messes. They paint graffiti on the walls. They gorge themselves on sugar and sweets, and steal things; Jacob’s, each other’s, everyone’s. They get into bloody fights. Kids are beaten senseless. No one takes care of them. No one cooks. No one does laundry. No one’s there to do anything. Chaos reigns.

Victoria: It’s a lawless land. The government falls on the first day. Society follows on the second. Sylvie wonders if she’ll need to learn to survive once food runs out. She doesn’t know how to hunt, or where the grocery store is, or how to get more money. They already stole all of what they could from Jacob.

She protects her Gameboy, though. Even with the batteries dead and none in sight, she protects it. It’s the most cherished thing she owns.

She spends most of her time in her room. What’s the point in leaving?

GM: There’s food, when she gets hungry, though the house’s food rapidly disappears. There’s bathing and showering, until the toilets get clogged when some kid has the brilliant idea to flush rocks down them. Shit literally piles up, after that. The bathrooms become toxic waste dumps. The kids start shitting outside, or going to places with public restrooms. Several of them never come back.

Yet perhaps worst of all for Sylvie, her medication runs out, or perhaps disappears. She’s not sure which.

Either way, the night terrors come back.

They’re worse than ever. She dreams of her parents getting crucified on in the willow tree and burned alive. They laugh, their voices sizzling and popping like their cooking flesh, that no one wants an orphan like Sylvie. She dreams of schoolmates who never talked to her beating her bloody after school, holding her face-down in the mud until she suffocates. She dreams of being a dog in her last family’s house, kept in a cage and forgotten. She starves to death while they eat syrup-drizzled waffles. She dreams of getting raped in the dark by shadowy figures while her foster sisters endlessly sob. Voices wail at her, plead with her, scream obscene things at her.

She wakes to sheets drenched in sweat and urine, heart pounding in her chest like a drum, stomach growling in hunger.

No one comes for her. No one does anything. No takes care of her.

Victoria: Some kid leaves the vegetables outside. They begin to rot on the porch. By the third day, what isn’t picked away by scavengers turns into a fetid mash; a mockery of ratatouille.

She can smell it through her bedroom window.

She doesn’t sleep much. When she does sleep—somewhere between the sugar-laden rush ending in a crash, often literally, and the morning heat raising shit-stink—it’s restless, sweat-stained, and unwanted time with unwanting parents. Feral schoolmates. Burning loved ones. A dead dog. The pancakes are the worst. Stale marshmallows and bland cereal is nothing next to pancakes.

She doesn’t like the tree anymore. Faeries and dragons never come to help her parents, not that she’s sure she wants them helped.

The next morning, she isn’t soaked through with sweat due to her dreams alone. The air conditioner is broken.

It’s Tuesday.

She begins to cry. She misses her dog.

GM: Flies descend on the vegetable mush. Tiny fruit flies and big fat buzzing flies. They breed. Insects get inside the house. She sees maggots in the shit caking up in the bathrooms.

Between the lack of sleep, food, and AC, Sylvie feels sick all the time now, and delirious. She gets a fever. The other kids fight less. Mostly they just lie around, now. They look half-dead.

Someone eventually reports the situation to social services. Sylvie doesn’t think she’s ever been relieved to see social workers, police, and ambulances on scene before.

Cops make disgusted remarks about “kids living like animals.”

Victoria: Sylvie feels like an animal. Unwashed. Unfed. Uncared for.

Only some of that is new.

GM: And just like that, Sylvie is back at DCFS again.

Thursday morning, 16 March 2000

GM: “Your next home is going to be very different from this,” her case worker tells her after she’s showered, eaten, and been checked by a nurse. Her case worker is a woman she’s never seen before. Her old case worker quit. Or got transferred. She never finds out why the woman gets replaced.

Victoria: She isn’t sure she wants different. Different is a beast she’s unfamiliar with. At least she knows how she’ll suffer, even if they find new ways to do it.

“I don’t like different.”

GM: “Different will be good for you,” smiles the social worker.

Different is what she gets.

Sylvia is sent to a group home with several dozen residents. The contrast with the last one is night and day.

First, there are literally alarms all over the house. Everything is locked. Sylvie can’t even open the windows at night or it rings alarms, not that there’s any point with bars over them. If she can’t sleep and she wakes up, she cannot do anything but sit in her room and read or try to force herself to go back to sleep. She’s not allowed to have any electronics at night (including her Gameboy) and she’s not allowed to wander the house at night. The doors to her room are locked. The doors to the kitchen and living room are locked. Staff don’t sleep at night, and conduct bed checks with a flashlight every two hours.

She shares her room with at least two other, random, ever changing girls. She wonders where they go, and why they leave so fast. Some of them lie crying in bed all the time. Some pick fights and attack her. Staff haul them away and she never sees them again after that happens.

She doesn’t own much, but her belongings often disappear. The staff search her room top to bottom whenever they feel like it, and often do.

She is told she is on a points system. She enters with zero points, and has no privileges (TV, phone, going outside of the home for anything except school or a doctor appointment) until she earns three points. A point takes of week of incident-free behavior to earn. Points are deducted for breaking rules. If she ever earns negative points, she is told, she will go to jail. Juvenile hall. Youth detention center. “This is your absolute last chance,” staff tell her. If she makes any real trouble, such as fist fighting, verbally threatening a staff member, touching a staff member (including hugs), or stealing, she will be automatically sent to jail for an unknown period of time, with no way of knowing if she will later return to the same home, or be sent someplace else.

“This is your absolute last chance,” staff repeat.

Victoria: Her heart tries to escape long before she has any thoughts of escaping, herself. It begins as soon as she walks in the door.

Fight or flight holds congress as soon as the doors shut behind her, sealing her into her into the prison. Flight wins with a narrow margin of 52 to 48 (her brain holds an extra vote in reserve for ties), but before she can take the first step, two black boys tumble out of a nearby doorjamb, fists wailing like a summer storm.



Both boys are taken away by men in white shirts and pants, and neither are seen again.

She reconsiders running. Different still isn’t better, but this different is better than the last different.

GM: Her day starts with going to the bathroom. The doors have no locks. Other kids can barge in at any time.

Then she takes a shower. Doing so requires permission from a staff member, or she loses a point.

Everyone eats cereal at 8 AM, sandwiches at 1 PM, and dinner at 6 PM. No snacks, ever. Outside of her three allowed meals, she can have tap water or nothing. All food is kept locked up. She must be present for all meals unless she is in school or working.

There are daily rotating chores five days a week. Washing bedding, doing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, mopping and sweeping floors. Falling behind loses points. Sylvie is kept constantly working when she’s not eating or in school. There’s almost no time before curfew. The bathrooms are cleaned the most often, and yet somehow always filthy.

Residents ages 13 and below have an 8 PM curfew. Residents 14 and up have a 9 PM curfew. At 9 PM, the doors are locked. If Sylvie isn’t inside the building, and doesn’t call, she will be reported to the local police as a runaway.

It is usually extremely loud until 10 PM, which is lights out and silence. Even reading in bed, after lights out, is not allowed and deducts points.

That is her day. Day in and day out. Sylvie almost never sees the outside of school or the group home. It’s like being in jail.

She gets $12.00 a month spending money, for clothes, preferred toothpastes, tampons—because only maxi-pads are provided—or for anything else “personal” that she needs. She must provide receipts to prove she has not purchased drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. No receipt, no money the following month.

Sylvie will get a slice of cake on her birthday if she has no infractions. She will get a $20 store gift voucher on her birthday, and on Christmas, if she has no infractions. She can pick from four stores: A music store, a book store, a clothing store, or a beauty supply store.

All kitchen knives and sharp objects, including disposable razors, and all medications, are kept inside of locked cabinets. Even Tylenol. If she gets caught with a bottle of Tylenol, she will lose points, and may be sent to juvenile hall.

If she gets caught with any alcohol or drugs, she will go into a lock-up drug rehab for 30 days, and it will be reported to the police, and she will be prosecuted.

She can spend half an hour on the phone each day, if she has her privileges intact. Local calls only.

There are lots of rules about when she’s allowed to watch TV. There’s lots of fighting over TV.

Once a month, she and all the other kids are piled into white vans and taken to a PG-rated movie. She is left locked in her room if she has recent infractions.

There is medical care. An OBGYN visit upon menstruation. Yearly physicals. Yearly dental visits. Sylvie also sees a psychiatrist who gives her more meds. She is told that if she gets pregnant, and wants to keep it, she will be moved to “another placement” for pregnant foster youth.

Staff come and go. Residents come and go. All of the time, never to be seen again, and never with any notice.

It’s structured. Sylvia has to give it that. But it’s never safe. If another resident is angry enough with her, they might literally stab her, with a pen. One time she ends up with hair remover in her shampoo bottle. Another time, someone pisses in her bed. Some residents seem one bad day away from a psychotic break. Sylvia never knows what will happen.

She gets used to a lot of chaos. Yelling, screaming, arguing, fighting, breaking shit, throwing things, people being restrained, police, crying, drama, ambulances, slamming doors, threats, insults. She even learns new profanity.

Staff never touch her, except to give her a high five or physically restrain her. Rules prohibit all other physical contact.

They also tell her she’ll have a future, after she “ages out.” She’s going to enlist in the military.

They’ll get started early on the whole process and its attendant paperwork. They have an agreement with the local recruiting station. She’ll be on a plane to basic the day she turns 18.

Victoria: At 11 years old, Sylvie isn’t entirely sure what ‘basic’ is, but she knows what the military is. They’re the strong guys with tanks and bombs and planes and green clothing.

Sylvie doesn’t want to kill people. She gets mad, sometimes, and the three girls who—one of—chemically genocided her hair deserve to be punched in the mouth, but she doesn’t want to kill people she doesn’t know.

Why would she?

Why would anyone?

The thought of her life already decided by people who know her name as if it’s just as number destroys her.

She vows to get out of this house.

But until then, Sylvie is a good girl. Sylvie is a model daughter in a home without parents. Sylvie listens. Sylvie earns her points. Sylvie gets her treats. Sylvie is every fairy her willow tree never showed.

Until she pulls away the entirety of her hair one fateful shower. She doesn’t know who it was, but the choices are slim. Is it Mary-Mabel, who refused to accept that no, Sylvie would not be giving her her breakfast? Is it Bethany, whose feet Sylvie tripped over the night before? Or is it Donna, who was told that it was Sylvie who pushed her down the stairs the week before?

It wasn’t Sylvie.

Anger overtakes her. She cries in the shower, sinking to her knees as long as they allow her to stay. It isn’t long. She wants to hurt them; to stab them; to take a knife to their eyes and mush up their brains like strawberry pudding. She wants to see them hit by a car, and made part of the pavement. Maybe if they’re hit by a bus, they’ll sail clear over the bridge down the street.

She stuffs that anger down, down, down, deep inside. She doesn’t want to go to jail. She doesn’t want to lose her Gameboy.

Sylvie is a good girl.

A bald, good girl.

GM: Most of the kids are black, like the two quarreling boys. Sylvie’s not sure if she gets punished harsher or less harsh.

Running will not succeed, from what everyone tells her. She’s locked in the building almost all of the time. If she bolts after school, and doesn’t return for bed, the police will hunt her.

But that’s okay. She can be a good girl, until she loses her hair.

Most of her hair.

The staff declare what’s left “distracting” to the other residents and get rid of it. The razor they use cuts her skin. Harshly wielded scissors painfully nick her scalp. She bleeds. She will probably develop scabs.

The staff angrily tell her she’s lost a point, for what she’s done to her hair, and demand to know where she got the hair remover. Or else she will be “really in for it.”

Victoria: She never stops crying while they rend the dregs of her hair from her head. She saw an interrogation in a movie, once.

This is worse.

“I d-didn’t!! It wa-was one of them!”

She points at the door. All three suspects are somewhere out there.

“I l-loved my hair!”

GM: “You’re a liar,” says the staff member.

He roughly grabs Sylvie, hauls her to a sink, and forces her head in. He turns on the hot water full blast against her face. He then takes a fat handful of awful, pink, grainy powder K-Mart soap and shoves it into Sylvie’s mouth. He yells for her to chew as hot water pours over her face. He sticks his hand in her mouth and scrubs back and forth, washing her from teeth to gums to tongue. Sylvie gags and spits and burns. Soapy water froths out of her nostrils. She feels like she’s drowning.

“Stop lying, you awful girl. Where did you get the hair remover?” he asks after turning the water off.

Victoria: Sylvie tries her hardest not to vomit. The soap is acidic. It burns her tongue. It burns her gums. It gets in her eyes. It gets in her nose. It gets in her scrapes and cuts. Still, she sticks to it.

“I-I-I didn’t!! I loved my hair!! HONEST!!”

GM: The staff member hits her.

Just like that, he punches her in the gut. She crashes to her knees. She feels like she’s been shot. The urge to throw up is even stronger.

He yanks her back up and turns on the hot water again. Sylvia can see steam rising from it now.

“Where did you get the hair remover?”

Victoria: Is this what life is now? Is this what an interrogation really is?

She understands the movie a little better.

“I… I bought it.”

Life is giving people what they want.

“Mary-Mabel made me.”

GM: The staff member roughly grabs Sylvie by the hand and takes her to one of the “solitary” rooms for kids. There’s a bed on a thin mattress and nothing else in the windowless room.

He closes the door in her face. A lock clicks.

Victoria: She sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

And she sobs.

GM: Used goods, says the voice in her head.

Look at her now.





No one wants Sylvia.

No one wants an orphan.

No one wants a bald, crying, lying, soap-mouthed orphan.

Not even the people here.

She doesn’t have a family.

She will never have a family.

She’s going to be a pariah when she gets out. The other kids will torment her, ceaselessly, when they see she’s bald.

She’s probably lost all of her points. They’re never going to let her leave this place. She’s going to be locked up here until she turns 18, when she’ll join the army and kill people.

If they don’t just send her to jail. Juvenile hall. Youth detention. Will they do that?

That’s all she is.

Used goods.

Victoria: She might hurt herself, if she has anything to do it with. She has nothing. She is nothing. She’s never been anything. She will never be anything.

She’s the food her dog left behind, unfit to lick the bowl.

She’s the fetid vegetables left behind by maggots.

She’s the shit piled so high that you could no longer sit on the bowl.

She’s the piss in the bed she’s no longer sleeping in.

She’s every blank space in every picture she was never allowed in.

She’s the crumbs in the cookie jar, tossed into the trash.

She is emptiness, incarnate: blank space unfit even to be recognized.

I’m a junkie, Sylvia.

I’m a whore, Sylvia.

I’m a bum, Sylvia.

I’m a deadbeat, Sylvia.

I’m wasted, Sylvia.

I’m trash, Sylvia.

And so…



Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Amelie VII
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Story One, Amelie VII

“You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”
Beatrice Achord

Monday morning, 24 August 2015

GM: The weekend passes in relative quiet. Amelie can work on homework, binge on movies and TV shows off her aunt’s Webflix subscription, and engage in other non-demanding leisure activities as she waits for her bandaged hand to hurt less.

Amelie: Amelie uses the downtime and the blear induced by her body adjusting to antibiotics to get ahead in her homework. That includes writing down notes on her investigations into the LaLaurie house, which she intends to share with Yvette later on. Eventually, however, she runs out of work and proceeds to watch the television she rarely pays any mind to.

GM: Mr. Thurston and Ms. Perry both remark on Amelie’s hand come Monday. The former makes a related quip about Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Both teachers express their condolences. Mr. French doesn’t comment on it.

Amelie It’s almost a relief when Monday comes. Amelie dresses in her pristine and ironed uniform, a pair of low-heeled shoes Kristina recommended during their outing, and heads off to school. She’s carefully wrapped her hand to prevent infection and isn’t surprised when it draws attention. She chuckles at Mr. Thurston’s economics joke, assures both teachers her hand is fine, and thanks them for their concern. She tries to take Aunt Christina’s advice to use ‘thank you’ more often to heart.

GM: Today’s Local History class is a lecture rather than small group activity work. Ms. Perry tells her students about the 1724 Code Noir de la Louisiane, an amendment to Louis XIV’s 1685 original Code Noir that set standards for the treatment of slaves. In practice, slave owners did largely as they pleased, but it presented the first substantive effort to regulate slavery as an institution.

The bell’s ring and Ms. Perry’s reminder of some soon-due homework assignments heralds the class’s dispersal. Amelie has the lunch break before fourth period to approach her research partner.

Amelie: She does so without delay once the bell rings.

“Yvette, do you mind if we walk and talk? Something happened in regards to our project.”

GM: Her identically-dressed classmate gives her a mildly curious look. “All right, what ’appened? Mah mother and the bank set up everything so we can see the ’ouse on Friday.”

Amelie: Amelie shows Yvette her phone, which has the picture of her stab wound pulled up.

“I went to Cathédrale Saint-Louis to ask the priests about the house, and they denied the existence of ghosts. But someone heard my conversation. Slipped a card for an occult store into my belongings. When I went? The old lady owner went insane, and did this to me, screaming not to go in the house, or we’d be killed by what she called ‘a festering rot’ of New Orleans.”

GM: The blonde French student gives Amelie a strange look, but then offers, “Ah’m… sorry. And Ah’m sorry about your ‘and. Ah’m sure that was very scary. If you don’t want to come along to the ’ouse, that’s fine.”

Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small smile. “I’m not sure yet. But what I am sure of, is that this is something interesting to put into the report. A violent local reaction to the house. I’ve one more person to interview this week, a Vodoun priestess by the name of Mama Rosa. That makes three ‘interviews’ and three different perspectives on the house.”

GM: “Ohhhh, oui, that’s right!” Yvette exclaims. “That’ll look good to ‘ave in the presentation, no? ’Locals ’ave violent reactions.’ We could even show the picture of your ‘and, if you don’t mind putting yourself up like that.”

Amelie: “Not worried about it at all, no! That’s one of the reasons I took the picture. The story of the assault may score us some points as well.”

Amelie offers to send the picture over to Yvette’s phone, and even offers to delete her contact information afterwards if she’s averse to her partner having it.

GM: Yvette exchanges her phone number with Amelie and does not request she delete the contact information.

Amelie: Amelie also makes one final suggestion.

“So, Yvette, I realize you may not be superstitious. Are you still okay with going into the house if I don’t come? We do have other options we can pursue.”

GM: “Oh yes, Ah’m totally fine,” Yvette answers. “Mah mother and Monsieur Whitney went to all the trouble of setting everything up, after all. And you really don’t ‘ave to go into the ’ouse if you don’t want to, they don’t even know your name. Getting your ‘and stabbed by a crazy person is already a lot of ’field work,’ no?” She smiles faintly. “It’s not like Ah’ll be able to say to Miss Perry that Ah was the one who did all the work.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. Her face betrays just a bit of concern before she smiles at the praise. “You’re braver than I am, that’s for sure. I was going to suggest just renting a camera drone and getting pictures of the inside. Don’t and say we did.”

GM: Yvette laughs at that. “Well, ‘ow about a compromise, you don’t and Ah take the pictures. Ah really would feel bad making you sleep there after your ’and, no?”

Amelie: Amelie gives another small smile and nods slowly. “I’d feel bad to make you go alone. So I’ll get back to you with my decision after I speak to this last person I wanted to interview.”

GM: “All right, go a’ead then. And Ah really am sorry about your ’and.”

Monday noon, 24 August 2015

GM: Lunch rolls around at its usual time after Ms. Perry’s class. Girls chatter or play on their phones as they fill up the cafeteria. The posted overhead menu today reads, Chef’s Turtle Soup; Bayou Beignets; Downtown Chopped Salad; Citrus-Sesame Crusted Salmon; Louisiana Strawberry Salad; Tuscan Grilled Chicken Panini.

Amelie: Amelie spends her time in line scanning the menu and already seated people, but she can’t find Hannah anywhere. Uniforms seem like a good idea until you try to pick someone out of a crowd. She eventually finds herself where she usually does, sitting alone outside with a book and tray of salmon. She resolves to find Hannah during sixth period and ask where she sits at lunch. Hopefully this will be the last day she eats alone.

GM: The rich, brined, and boneless salmon remains pleasantly moist against the contrasting texture of the crunchy salmon seeds. The citrus sauce is a sweet blend of orange, white wine, butter, and honey. It also nicely contrasts the more sour side dish: lemon-drizzled grilled asparagus coated in melted Parmesan cheese and caramelized yellow onion shreddings.

The food tastes as good as ever, but it can’t help but seem like it would taste even better with company. It’s an increasingly bitter aftertaste to watch her classmates talking, laughing, and even just texting in one another’s company.

Amelie: Amelie still enjoys the taste, and despite sitting in this hot and humid corner of the Deep South, it’s an almost nostalgic experience. She didn’t always eat salmon, but she remembers times when her neighbors would trade fish they caught and meat they hunted in return for repairing household items.

Still, the lonely aftertaste spoils the meal somewhat. She doesn’t know if the feeling stems from being alone in such a high-profile school (not to mention older than the other students), or if it’s just general loneliness from having no friends yet.

GM: Amelie cleans and returns her tray with the other uniformed masses of girls. Her phone rings several minutes after she sits down under a banana tree to idly flip through it. The prompt reads ‘caller unknown.’

Amelie: Amelie’s thoughts are interrupted by the buzzing on her lap. She crooks a brow at the call display but answers it anyway. She takes out a pen and pad of paper from her nearby bag to write down any details she might want from the caller.

“Hello, Amelie speaking.”

GM: “This is Rosa Rouzier,” sounds an older woman’s voice. “I received a phone message from you about the LaLaurie House, Ms. Amelie.”

Amelie: Amelie sits up immediately as if the woman can see her. “Mrs. Rouzier! Thank you so much for returning my call. Do you prefer to be addressed as Mrs. Rouzier or Mama Rosa, ma’am?”

GM: “Ma’am or Mrs. Rouzier will do fine,” the woman replies.

Amelie: Amelie nods and makes a note of her prefer states of address as she speaks more. “Thank you, Mrs. Rouzier. I was really hoping you would get back to me, so I could seek your counsel about the house.”

GM: “May I ask what ‘counsel’ you are looking for, Ms. Amelie? Your phone message said something about ‘approaching the house with respect.’”

Amelie: “Well… my priorities have changes slightly since my message, Mrs. Rouzier. At first my research lead me to believe the people who were hurt and died in that house were of the Vodoun faith. So I wanted to ask you in what ways I could go about not offending any spirits within. However I recently received a… rather painful warning and lesson on the house. Either from an occultist madwoman or a real life ghost. I’m not sure what to believe but the fact I paid a price for the information I was given by Mrs. Tantsy. Now, I was hoping you may be able to help me protect my classmate, I believe she’s in danger if she enters that house, with or without me.”

GM: “I see,” the woman answers mildly.

“I don’t understand very much of what you just said, Ms. Amelie, but I’ll give you some free advice. If you believe that it’s unsafe for you or your classmate to go inside the house, don’t go in there. From what I know, the LaLaurie House is private property in any case.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a small breath to collect her thoughts. “We got permission from the bank that owns it, ma’am. I don’t think I’ll be able to talk my classmate out of going inside, though. She has family pride keeping her set on it now. But I was told, and I believe, the ghosts in that house will hurt her. The church wouldn’t help even if I asked, and I was stabbed seeking out an occultist. I was hoping these was some way you could help me protect her.”

GM: “Ms. Amelie, a question first. Actually, two. Why do you believe ghosts are real, much less want to harm your classmate?”

Amelie: Amelie pauses. She’s not sure what to believe, if she’s honest. But she knows what she saw in Tantsy’s eyes. She remembers how strong the old woman was, and how that card mysteriously turned up in her belongings. She’s smart enough to know she doesn’t know, even after being born in a city full of tourist traps that claimed to be severely haunted.

“I don’t know what to believe if I’m honest, ma’am. But my guts tell me to prepare for the worst. And I don’t want anyone hurt.”

GM: There’s an answering pause as the woman seems to weigh Amelie’s words.

“Then we share that goal, Ms. Amelie, but there is not very much that I may be able to do for you. If you shared my religion and were members of my congregation, I would advise making a sacrifice to the proper loa and asking for their protection.”

“Store owners in the French Quarter could tell you about a thousand different remedies to protect against the supernatural, from holy water to black tourmaline to everyday table salt. They might be some comfort to you, and that may be worth something in of itself. I do not believe that any of those alleged remedies hold power.”

“If you believe yourself in the presence of a restless spirit, my advice is to rebuke it and pray, earnestly and truly, from the depths of your heart. The dead hold no power over us but that which we choose to grant them. When we encounter something beyond our understanding, it is often easier to have faith in Bondye’s power than in our own.”

“If you truly believe the LaLaurie House is unsafe, however, my advice remains to simply not go inside—and to investigate legal avenues if your classmate’s mind is made up. I am not a lawyer or realtor, but it does not sound normal to me for banks to offer private tours of homes they own.”

Amelie: Amelie listens closely but doesn’t find much comfort in the thought of invoking a god’s help against a ghost. She’s not a praying sort. Her prayers have never been answered before, after all. But the advice hits home enough that she finds herself nodding, and silently dreading that she may have to face those spirits with Yvette. She still writes down the woman’s every word (or at least as much as she can) and lets out the smallest of nervous sighs.

“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll do my best to keep her out of that house, or if I can’t, go with her to try and protect her. Your calling is more than I could ask for. Legal avenues won’t do a whole lot of good against old New Orleans nepotism, however. Is there anything I can do to repay you for your time?”

GM: Rosa doesn’t sound like she’s smiled at any point throughout the pair’s conversation, but there’s an audible chuckle from the other end of the line at Amelie’s words.

“That won’t be necessary, Ms. Amelie, but that’s thoughtful of you to offer. I hope your instincts serve you well with your friend.”

Amelie: Amelie just stares down at her bandaged hand. “Thank you, ma’am. I hope so too. I hope we can talk again some day as well. Under better circumstances, of course.”

GM: “Until that day,” Rosa states in farewell, then ends the call.

Other girls around Amelie continue to eat, laugh, and chatter under the sun about normal things.

Amelie: Amelie stares down at the page of notes she transcribed and lets herself feel the warm sun. It’s only for a moment before her pen returns paper. Her instincts are clear.

Do not go inside.

Monday afternoon, 24 August 2015

GM: Sixth period rolls around after several more hours. Mrs. Flores greets her comparatively large class with a, “Hello, everybody, happy second Monday of the year! But don’t y’all groan now, it’s almost over… nothin’ left for you to do this period but dance and unwind.” She smiles. “Now today we’re going to talk about a little dance we like to call the foxtrot. We’ll start off with the basic box step we practiced last week…”

Once Mrs. Flores finishes her demonstration (Susannah Kelly volunteers again and is complimented by the teacher for her dancing skills again), the class pairs off into partners. Hannah is present and no longer looks as sick as she did in the ER.

Amelie: Sixth period is as good a period as usual. The dancing is fine, but just being able to move around and shake out an entire day’s worth of sitting and doing nothing feels incredible.

Once the demo is over, Amelie slides across the room and taps Hannah on the shoulder. There’s a bit of a smile on her face. “My hand is still a little torn up, but you wanna be my partner for now, Hannah?”

GM: Hannah is standing next to a plump-faced blonde when Amelie approaches. She flinches slightly when her classmate unexpectantly touches her, but then looks between the two girls and says, “All right, we can do the next dance?” to the blonde.

“Sure,” the other girl smiles before heading off.

Hannah turns back to Amelie. “So I was pretty out of it at the ER, what’s your name again?”

Amelie: Amelie gives the plump-faced girl a thankful nod before turning back to Hannah and offering a hand to shake. The good one.

“Yeah, you were really messed up. You still got some good jokes in through. Amelie Savard!”

GM: Hannah takes Amelie’s hand, then raises it and steps closer so they are in position to dance like the rest of the class. The other ‘men’ in the room are putting their hands on their partners’ waists. Hannah takes a place by Amelie’s right side like so many other previous classmates have.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t hesitate to put her hand on Hannah’s waist. She doesn’t mind being the lead and never has.

GM: Mrs. Flores turns on the music from the front of the class.

GM: “All right, y’all, let’s go through the steps now… walk… walk…”

Hannah takes two steps back as Amelie leads and finally replies, “Thanks. I’d say nice to meet you, so nice to meet you again?”

“Now, side… together…!” Mrs. Flores calls.

Hannah takes a single step to her right and closes her feet. “I’m sorry about my mom being… herself.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the steps with gusto, enjoying the physical activity as she nods to Hannah. “Nice to meet you again. And no need to be sorry. People always assume, and your mom was super nice about it. Was that Leslie you were talking to? You mentioned her, back before.”

GM: Hannah shakes her head. “That’s Megan. Leslie got suspended.”

Amelie: “Oh dang. She going to be back anytime soon?”

GM: “Now, slow… slow… quick… quick,” Mrs. Flores calls as the students go through the steps.

“Fairly soon, yeah. She got ten days last Monday. I think that’s the longest they can suspend someone before expelling them.”

Amelie: Amelie keeps going and matches the teacher’s pace. “Really? In my country you can justify a month. Well, let’s hope she doesn’t freak out when she sees me?”

GM: “She’s less excitable than my mom,” Hannah says with a note of dryness. “You’re not from the States?”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but chuckle at Hannah’s mention of her mother being excitable. “Nope. Canada. So basically the same thing.”

GM: “Besides suspensions, yeah, just aboot the same.”

Amelie: Amelie grins and rolls her eyes. “Well, y’all should take a look at longer ones.”

GM: As if to emphasize Amelie’s satirical words, Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, y’all, now something just a little silly to mix things up…”

GM: Hannah and a few other girls start giggling when they recognize the tune. A fair number more, though, look as if they don’t get the ‘joke.’

“Well, I’m glad I’m not too old for none of y’all to recognize that,” the dance teacher laughs. “Okay, now… slow, slow… quick, quick…”

“Okay, she did it twice, you win that one,” Hannah snickers.

Amelie: “Yeah she did. How aboot that,” Amelie grins back. “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. If you’ve got room at your table, we should eat lunch together sometime. Might be easier to talk when we aren’t dancing to the Pink Panther theme song.”

GM: “My friends and me usually eat on the grass. But yeah, feel free.” She adds with a slight frown, “Just don’t mention the ER thing. I’m feeling better and they don’t need to worry about me.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. Mission fucking accomplished! Now there’s somewhere she can eat lunch. “Course not. That’s private junk. I’d say the same about my hand if I didn’t have a hole in it.”

GM: “Yeah, about that, since you do. Where’d you…”

Hannah is cut off, however, as Mrs. Flores calls out, “Okay, let’s change up partners, everyone! Now, for the next steps…”

Tuesday morning, 25 August 2015

GM: One day later, the bell’s overhead ring announces the end of third period. Ms. Perry calls out more due date reminders, then ushers two students who want to speak privately up towards her desk. The remainder of Amelie’s classmates pack up laptops into backpacks and file out the door.

Amelie: Amelie stops Yvette again, though she looks only a little bit more worried today. “Yvette, can we talk quick?”

GM: “All right, what is it?” the pale blonde asks as she slides a Sunburst notebook into her backpack.

Amelie: “I wanted to ask you if we can be dropped off at the house, but not go inside. We could use the night to do the project at my place or something. Be back before the pickup time? We can say we didn’t take photos out of respect for it being private property.”

GM: “Non, don’t be silly,” Yvette answers. “Any tourist can take pictures from the banquette. Mah mother ‘ad to call in some favors to get us inside. If you don’t want to go in after your ‘and, that’s fine, Ah won’t tell Ms. Perry Ah did all the work.”

“But when you say ‘can we get dropped off’,” she continues with a slightly confused frown, “we’re not getting rides from the bank or anything, Ah don’t know if that’s what you thought. The realtor, agent, whatever, is meeting us at the ’ouse.”

Yvette slings on her backpack and heads to the door, then turns back and adds, “Oh, one other thing. If you do, it’s fine if you want to bring a few friends. Just vet them past me, and no boys.” Yvette smiles. “Ah’m bringing a few of mah sisters. It’d be too scary if we ’ad to spend the night bah ourselves, no?”

Amelie: Amelie just looks nervous about the whole thing, especially when Yvette shoots down her idea. Even worse, she’s bringing her sisters along for the ride. Amelie manages a small nod as her classmate heads off.

There’s a dull throbbing anxiousness in her chest. She’s not scared for herself if she goes, but she is scared for the girl—girls—who’s so confident this is a good idea.

She steps up to Ms. Perry’s desk behind the other students and waits until their conversations are over.

GM: “But you know,” Yvette continues, “Ah really do ‘ope you don’t let your ‘and scare you, you seem very into local ’istory. The ’ouse might never be open for public tours, and you know more about it than Ah do, if Ah’m being honest.” She smiles. “Mah sisters would love if we could ‘ave a ’tour guide.’”

“And it won’t be so scary when there’s lots of people, no? Mah littlest sister, Simmone, is very sweet and silly. She likes to ‘ave pillow fights, you’ll be too busy fighting ’er off to be scared. She makes the funniest noises, too, when she gets ’it back.” Yvette laughs a bit to herself, then says, “Anyways, just think about it. Now Ah ’ave to get to lunch.”

Amelie: Amelie just gives Yvette a small nod, wave, and assurance that she’ll think about it.

GM: The other girls talking to Ms. Perry take their leave shortly later.

Amelie: Amelie takes the opportunity to approach their instructor. “Ms. Perry. Can I ask you an insane question?”

GM: The history teacher smirks over her half-rimmed glasses in answer. “Don’t often hear that caveat. All right, try me.”

Amelie: “Do you think ghosts are actually real?”

GM: Ms. Perry tilts her head at Amelie, then says, “There are a lot of people in New Orleans who do. I read a survey that said 45% of all Americans believe in ghosts, and I’m sure the number’s even higher where we live. There are probably people at McGehee who believe in ghosts. We’ve had two students die in directly school-related homicides over the years, so girls talk and stories grow.”

“I think if you were to ask most people whether they’re positive ghosts don’t exist, you’d get more nos than yeses. But that isn’t the same as a ‘yes I’m positive ghosts are out there’ either. I think a lot more people keep an open mind there, or just aren’t sure what they believe. Surveys’ questions don’t always reflect that.”

“But as for me, I believe there are forces at work in the world, invisible to most people. These forces shape our lives in huge and subtle ways, and not always in ones for the better. Many of these forces are connected to deaths, wars, and other tragedies, and get caught in what we could call a ‘feedback loop.’ They draw in more people, force them to repeat those original tragedies, and commit new tragedies that make the ‘loop’ even harder to break. I believe that careful study of those forces can make them visible to us, and maybe even able to change them.”

Ms. Perry smirks again. “I call those forces ‘history.’”

“If I ever run into Casper, I’ll re-think my attitude on ghosts. Until then, history is a mean enough ghost on its own. Maybe even the meaner one. How many people could ghosts have killed next to all the wars and conflicts that have their roots in past ones?”

Amelie: Amelie listens to the woman and slowly frowns, but nods along with her reasoning. Ms. Perry is right, of course. It’s a big surprise to hear two girls’ murders were directly connected to the school, but she tries to bury her reaction so they stay on topic.

“Yes, I understand what you mean. Voltaire said, ‘it is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’ I just mean I’m kind of… ‘caught.’ I’m worried about going into that house, and the far and away possibility it might be dangerous, after what happened. But now I’ve set in motion events that will lead a classmate to do it, even if I try to dissuade her.”

GM: Ms. Perry initially looks sympathetic enough, if also a little humoring at Amelie’s strange choice in language. The young teacher’s expression dovetails into a more concerned frown at the words ‘after what happened.’

“Do you mean your hand there, Amelie?” she slowly asks.

Amelie: Amelie nods and looks the bandaged mess over. It still hurts.

“The person who did this ranted about the LaLaurie House being a festering wound no one can amputate. That got too bad, and now it’s black and after anyone who steps inside. But there are accounts of people going inside and being fine afterwards. It was a lounge for once, for goodness’ sake. I know I’m being irrational, I’m just torn is all.”

GM: Ms. Perry takes in Amelie’s words before continuing in that same slow tone, “I’m sorry, Amelie, the person who did this? What happened to your hand wasn’t an accident?”

Amelie: Amelie takes out her phone and shows the teacher what is obviously a stab wound on a very obvious person’s hand.

GM: “Oh my god. The person who did that wasn’t someone close to you, were they?” she asks, looking between Amelie and the phone.

Amelie: “It was an occultist in the French Quarter. Someone heard me talking to a priest about the house and slipped a card onto me. When I came asking questions… well, I learned I shouldn’t be an idiot tourist, or let people read my palm.”

GM: “That must have been so awful. Come on… let’s sit down.” Ms. Perry guides Amelie over to one of the classroom’s desks and takes an adjacent seat.

“We have a school psychologist on-staff. I can take you to see her, if you’d be comfortable with that.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the teacher to sit down. She looks a little confused again at first, but actually lets out a chuckle when Ms. Perry offers to sit her down with a psychologist.

“No, no, Ms. Perry, I’m not delicate or traumatized, and I’ve gotten hurt much worse than this before. I’m absolutely fine. I don’t think psychologists want to be bothered on if I’m unsure if ghosts are real. Trust me, this will just be another scar to join plenty others.”

GM: Ms. Perry’s concerned look does not abate when Amelie mentions having ‘plenty other’ scars. In fact, it grows even more serious.

“Amelie, did someone close to you give you those?” she asks quietly, her eyes not leaving Amelie’s.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t lose her smile as she slowly shakes her head. “Keep it between us, okay? People might laugh a little. My parents loved history. So much so they worked in a tourist attraction, a 24/7 all-year-round Renaissance fair called Bicolline. My father was a smith, my mother was a tournament fencer. I was born while they worked there and grew up working in our shop. These are from my work, not from abuse, though I appreciate your concern. I can even show you pictures if you don’t believe me. My childhood was a circus,” she jokes, though her smile doesn’t grow any larger at it.

GM: “Now that would explain it. I knew some people back in grad school who were into that whole historical reenactment scene.” Ms. Perry doesn’t linger on the topic, however, as she continues with a wry half-smile that looks more like her usual expression, “All right, good to hear you aren’t being abused. You had me worried there for a moment.”

“Give me just a second, now.” The teacher gets up, walks to her desk, and scrawls a note. She plasters it over the classroom door’s window, then closes it to shut out the noise from the hallways.

Amelie: Amelie remains sitting. She wonders if she can get a tardy slip for her next class if they’re here through lunch.

GM: Ms. Perry sits back down with Amelie. “I don’t think you’re being irrational,” she says. “I think you’ve had something traumatic happen to you, and you’re concerned it could happen to one of your classmates too.”

“Now, there’s a few things I can think of for us to do.” The teacher starts to tick off fingers. “I could get in touch with Yvette’s mom, and let her know that you were attacked while doing ‘field work’ on your project—if you’re okay with me sharing that.”

“There’s also, as I said, talking with the school psychologist. You don’t need to worry about being a bother to her, or if what you want to talk about seems silly. Talking with students who have something on their minds is exactly what she gets paid to do. If you like, I could even bring up what you’ve told me—anonymously, with no names—and let you know what she says.”

“And of course, there’s the project. Now, I just want to say—I do not expect you to work on a school project where you’re concerned for your safety. If you don’t want to visit the LaLaurie House, inside or outside, and just use pictures you find online for your presentation, that’s completely fine with me. If you want to work on a totally different project, that’s also okay. We’ll work things out so you can still earn a good grade.”

Amelie: Amelie’s head whirs with all the options Ms. Perry lays out. She’s worked on this project long enough that she doesn’t want to abandon it, but that’s not the issue she’s really having. She needs to keep Yvette and those other girls out of the house.

The police might not do anything, since the bank owns the property and old family nepotism will let her bring in her classmate and sisters come this weekend. Talking to Yvette’s mother probably won’t do much either, she was the one who signed off on the thing. Ms. Perry’s inference that she should talk with the school psychologist, however, is just a side distraction. She’ll go and talk to this woman if it means her teacher will be at ease.

“We’re too far into the project to turn back, I think. I spoke with a priest at the cathedral, Mama Rosa herself, and this experience with the crazy local is a good writing piece. I spoke with Yvette. She’s just fine with me not coming, she’d already planned to take her sisters along with her for company and said it was fine if I don’t go. But now I have the moral dilemma. If I just let them go alone, and they’re hurt, it feels like it’ll be my fault.”

GM: Ms. Perry shakes her head at Amelie’s initial assertion, though the name ‘Mama Rosa’ doesn’t seem to elicit any recognition from the teacher.

“Don’t worry about the project. If you want to work on something else, we’ll make sure you can still earn an A+. If you’re scared for Yvette, I can let her mom know what’s happened. Do either of those options sound like a good idea to you?”

Amelie: “I’m sure I can still get 100% even without going into that house. Especially if I milk the fact a local stabbed me for asking questions,” she laughs, but nods slowly to Ms. Perry’s question.

“I’d appreciate it if you kept my name out of it. Yvette is likely to be furious with me either way, but if she’s just told I’ve been assaulted for asking about the house, we can let her make a choice on that. And if they still go… I’ll figure it out. And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll even go see that psychologist.”

GM: Ms. Perry thinks. “Okay, I can talk with Yvette’s mom. If she asks for details, I’ll just say I had multiple students interested in the LaLaurie House, which is true, and leave out your name. So far as my feelings, though, they don’t matter one bit here.” The teacher gives a faint smirk. “This is me not making a ‘she said’ joke.” The look on her face grows more serious as she continues, “I think you could benefit from talking with the school’s psychologist, Amelie, but it’s your decision. Not mine, yours.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a long and bracing breath. This is not likely to change anything, but it might.

“If you need to, use my name, okay? And yeah, I’ll bite and go see this woman. It might be better to get things out now let them ‘fester’ like that crazy lady was going on about, right?”

GM: “I think that would be a very good idea,” Ms. Perry agrees. “Okay, I’ll get in touch with her and see when the soonest is that she can meet with you. Is today after school a good time, or do you have extracurriculars?”

Amelie: “I haven’t decided on any yet, no. There’s that engineering class I was hoping was a club, but it’s a class. So I don’t believe I’ll be picking any.”

GM: “Aw, c’mon, there’s nothing in the booklet that looked fun?” Ms. Perry half-smiles, half-ribs. “They’re a good place to make friends, too. And believe me, you’ll be a lot more likely to get accepted into a good college if you have some extracurricular activities under your belt. Grades aren’t enough these days.”

Amelie: Amelie just smiles at Ms. Perry’s question. She chuckles a bit, though, when college comes up. “I’m not planning on going to college just yet. I plan on opening a business for my particular skills instead of attending college. Why? Would you recommend a club?”

GM: Ms. Perry taps her chin thoughtfully. “Well, let’s see… when I was in high school, I did Lincoln-Douglas debate. Our school’s got a great team, they’ve won several state championships. There’s a local judge, Mrs. Underwood, who sometimes volunteers as an assistant coach.”

“There’s also peer tutoring, working with the younger students. That’s another great club, since we’ve got elementary and junior high students on the same campus as us. I think there’s also volunteer options with the preschoolers at Little Gate—it’s not really tutoring when they’re that young—but you’d have to ask the staff there.”

Ms. Perry smiles. “I did a fair bit of tutoring myself. Surprise surprise for someone who decided to become a teacher, huh?”

“There’s the genealogy club, too. That one’s basically a history club, but specifically for researching the city’s old families. They’ve put together some really impressive family trees.” Ms. Perry’s smile widens a bit. “Somehow I have a feeling that might be up your alley.”

“There’s also web design, writing, poetry, physics, engineering, math league, the national history and spelling bees… we’ve got so many clubs here. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a club for it.”

Amelie: Amelie just keeps smiling and occasionally nods as Ms. Perry lays out all the clubs. She looks a bit confused when the teacher mentions an actual engineering club, but doesn’t let it sidetrack her.

“You reacted a lot like the career counselor. I live with my aunt. She’s paying for my schooling here. I plan to have my business up and going before I apply to MIT. I’ll have a look at that engineering club though, I didn’t see that on the list I don’t think.”

GM: “Engineering club could definitely still help you out then,” Ms. Perry nods. “MIT will look at your high school extracurriculars when they’re considering your application. Having more than just good grades will do a lot to help you get into a college that selective.”

There’s another, slightly more subdued smile. “Some of the adults here might seem like nags, but we all want you to succeed. Just keep that in mind.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles back. “It’s been a while since I did anything with my hands. I’ll take a look at the club and see if it’s for me. I know though… the career counselor was very supportive of my business idea, even. I just have to bring her an example of my work.”

GM: “Oh, yeah? What work do you wanna do for your business?” Ms. Perry asks.

Amelie: “I was a smith. I still am. My historical recreations are very good, I’ve done and can still do restoration on historic metallurgy, and of course I plan on making contact with several different parties in New Orleans, the float krewes included, for constructive forging. If you need something very specific, what would your rather do? Look for it for weeks, or have someone just make you one in 20 minutes? I can do jewelry, even.”

GM: “Oh, wow, that would explain where your love for history comes from,” the teacher smiles. “I’ll have to keep that in mind once you’re up and running. There’s a fair number of girls here whose families are involved in the parades, too. And the old Carnival krewes, not that they’ll admit being members of the secret ones. You might do so some asking around.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “I’m really lucky to be going to this school, to get these chances. I don’t plan to waste them kicking my feet around about things like that. I also found something, and I’ll be flexing my historic muscles finding the past owners,” she says before pulling up the walloon sword’s pictures on her phone and showing them to the teacher.

GM: “Oh wow, that is a find,” Ms. Perry remarks as she peers over the phone’s screen. “Swords aren’t my specialty, but they can have just as much history as any building.”

Amelie: “I could go on for hours, ma’am. Weapons and armor evolved with people, and tracking their history is always difficult and rewarding. I bet I’ll find the family this belongs to in the USA. And then I get to see their faces when I bring their history to their door.”

GM: “Those faces are gonna be open mouths, I bet. You’ll have to let me know how it goes.” Ms. Perry smiles, then glances up at the classroom’s clock. “Arright, I’ve kept you long enough. The lunch line’s probably empty at this point. You should go snarf something down before your next class.”

Amelie: “Yes, ma’am. Thank you for talking to me. Hopefully all of this will… sort itself out.” Amelie stands, pockets her phone and heads out for lunch, hoping to find Hannah and get introduced to her circle of friends.

GM: Ms. Perry lays a hand on Amelie’s arm as she adds, “And Amelie, I’m glad you came to me over this. We’ll make sure everyone stays safe. I’ll let you know how that call with Yvette’s mom goes tomorrow.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the teacher a small smile, nods, and thanks her profusely as she walks out the door. She takes her aunt’s advice and doesn’t even apologize for the trouble this time. It feels strange, but the smell of the cafeteria helps her get over it.

GM: True to Ms. Perry’s words, Amelie finds the lunch line nearly devoid of students. Today’s menu reads, Redfish Oceana; Cuban Midnight Sandwich; Blackeyed Bayou Duck; Vegetarian Pasta; Black Bean and Couscous Salad; Red Beans, Rice, & Sausage; Cream of Broccoli Soup.

After some searching, she also finds Hannah eating lunch together on the grass with several other uniform-wearing girls. Even under the shade of a banana tree, their blazers are all off in the mid-80s degree heat and humid air.

Amelie: The Cuban Midnight barely wins out over the Redfish Oceana, and Amelie takes her sandwich out into the yard. She’s had her blazer over her arm for most of the day already. She only slides it on to get into class and then immediately takes it back off to drape over the back of her chair. She approaches the group and nods to Hannah with a relaxed smile.

“Hey Hannah. Mind if I sit?”

GM: The Cuban Midnight is a sandwich consisting of roast pork, ham, mustard, Swiss cheese, and sweet pickles packed within grilled, olive oil-drizzled sweet egg dough bread. It also comes with a side cup of sesame ginger black bean soup and whatever drink Amelie chooses from the cafeteria’s selection.

Amelie’s nervousness may only intensify as the other girls in the clique simultaneously look up at her.

Hannah looks much the same as she did yesterday, still seemingly none the worse for her dehydration outside in the hot weather. She’s eating from a now close to empty bowl of pasta with grated cheese and assorted bright vegetables.

Sitting to her right is another girl Amelie recognizes from their sixth period dance class. She’s around the same height as Hannah and noticeably chubbier, with pretty facial features, plump round cheeks that jiggle slightly as she talks, large breasts, and shoulder-length blonde hair.

The much shorter and thinner girl next to her is a study in contrasts. Her narrow, oval-shaped face is framed by a wide pair of half-moon glasses, and her dark brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. Where her plumper friend has almost finished a bowl of broccoli soup, the thinner girl’s lunch tray has two half-eaten haunches of lemon-drizzled black duck. The coleslaw sides are untouched.

“Oh hey, sure! That’s Megan and Rachel,” Hannah says, nodding in turn to the other two identically-dressed girls.

“Heya,” says the blonde who seems to be Megan.

“Hi,” says Rachel.

“Hannah mentioned you,” Megan adds.

Amelie: Amelie feels a little like a deer in headlights when the other two girls look at her, but she un-tenses a bit when they seem to welcome her nicely enough. It’s also good to hear Hannah already filled them in. She slowly sits down in the shade next to the three.

“Amelie, nice to meet you both,” she greets, and wonders if she should address Rachel’s name being called. She lets it rest for now as she toys with her sandwich.

“Are you all in the same year?”

GM: “Meg and I are both seniors,” Hannah answers.

“Rachel’s a widdle junior…” Meg coos.

The glasses-wearing girl rolls her eyes and flips the bird between a large bite of duck.

Amelie: Amelie smiles when Rachel gets teased and fires back so easily. “And here I was scared that every girl in this school would be the textbook definition of gratingly ‘nice.’”

GM: “Courtesy is a lady’s armor,” Megan says.

“That’s from the TV show, right?” Rachel asks.

“It’s her Remington too,” Hannah replies between a piece of pasta.

Amelie: “Wow. I know Americans were violent, but weaponizing being a decent person? Diabolical,” she teases, smirking at Hannah and taking a bite of her sandwich.

GM: “Hannah said you’re new to the city?” Rachel asks once she’s swallowed her food.

Amelie: “New to the country in general. I’ve only been here a few weeks. It’s been a mixed bag,” she laughs as she holds up her bad hand.

GM: Hannah looks at it for a moment in dawning comprehension. “Hey, was that why…” She then trails off.

Rachel looks at her.

“Oh, wow, where’d you get that?” Megan asks.

Amelie: Amelie reads in between a few lines at the way Rachel looks at Hannah, but doesn’t comment.

“Got stabbed, actually. By a crazy fortune teller while doing research for my AP New Orleans History project.”

GM: All three girls stare.

“Uh, wait, what?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and takes her phone out. She pulls up the photos from her ER visit and extends the phone towards the three girls so they can see the wound when it was fresh.

“It was an eventful Friday afternoon. I wish I was joking.”

GM: “How do you get stabbed by a fortune-teller?” Megan asks, still half-disbelievingly.

“One grabs a knife and sticks the pointy end in your hand, presumably,” Hannah answers.

“That’s definitely from the TV show,” Rachel says.

Amelie: “You also let them hold your hand on a table like a dumbass tourist.”

GM: “Ha ha ha,” Megan deadpans. “Seriously though, how did you get stabbed?”

Amelie: “I’m not joking. I went to the cathedral in Jackson Square to get a statement about ghosts from the priests there for the project. I branched off after up to Royal Street. Sat with a fortune teller. Talking about the LaLaurie House pissed her off and she stabbed my hand.”

GM: “Wow, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful,” Megan says.

Amelie: “I’m a big girl. Plus, I wasn’t exactly a maiden fair beforehand,” she jokes, smiling again.

GM: “Yeah, Meg, give her a hand,” Hannah remarks between a forkful of pasta.

Megan makes a face at the pun.

Amelie: Amelie also starts eating in earnest. She puts her sandwich down for a moment first to look over at Meg and quickly unfold her good hand several times to mimic the sound of ‘one hand clapping.’ It’s nice to just sit and have people she can talk with. Almost relaxing.

“You have a friend getting out of suspension tomorrow, right?”

GM: Rachel pauses between her two ducks to add, “Next week.”

Amelie: “Looking forward to it. I hear she made some waves, the career counselor even freaked out handing me an old club pamphlet.”

GM: “Yeah, that took balls, but… it wasn’t very bright. All it did was get her suspended,” Hannah frowns.

Rachel pulls out her phone, then recites while staring at the screen, “‘Never be afraid to voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world… would do this, it would change the earth.’”

Megan smiles faintly. “Your graunt can do that without a phone.”

“Well, she’s older. Give me a few years.”

“Well I don’t think it’s a ‘forum for honesty and truth and compassion.’ It was just a club,” Hannah says. “And she’s gonna be so behind after missing ten days.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Megan frowns. “We’re all sending her notes, right?”

“Don’t have her email. Or any classes with her.” Rachel.

“Both here, obviously.” Hannah. “And yeah, I am. But it’s not like we have all six together.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the girls a small smile. She enjoys the banter, and the confirmation that Rachel is in fact the niece of the woman she was so interested in during the ‘start of the year’ announcements.

“If she has any classes with me she doesn’t with you, I can hand over my notes as well.”

GM: “Class-wise, she’s got…” Hannah rattles off a mostly complete list of classes and periods. Given the student body’s small size, it is unsurprising when Amelie finds out they have one class together: AP Local History.

Amelie: Amelie mentions they share that class and offers to share her notes. Though she’ll still have to start the ghost project two weeks behind schedule.

GM: Hannah supplies Amelie an email address and adds, “Oh, that’s great, she could really use those.”

Amelie: Amelie quickly taps the address into her phone, along with a reminder to email Leslie her notes. She sets it to go off during her study time tonight.

“Her club though, did she really write all that?” she asks.

GM: “Did she really write all what?” Rachel asks, sipping her sweet tea.

Amelie: “The never be afraid to voice for honesty stuff. I assume that was a saying for the club or something?”

GM: “No, that’s Faulkner,” Rachel answers. “He’s a favorite of my graunt’s.”

“I thought he was her dad,” Megan smiles.

“Honestly, even my parents aren’t sure if she’s telling the truth or not there. But she quotes him all the time.”

Amelie: Amelie lets out a little chuckle at Rachel’s and Megan’s conversation. She doesn’t say anything for a few moments and is content to enjoy her sandwich and have other people to talk to. It helps puts the anxiety over seeing a shrink at the back of her mind, at least for now.

GM: “So what kind of research were you doing for your class to get stabbed by a fortune teller?” Rachel asks after a few moments.

Amelie: “Mine and Yvette’s research project is on the LaLaurie House, I thought I might as well pick one of the scarier haunted spots.”

GM: “Isn’t that where a bunch of slaves were tortured?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: “Worse than tortured. The things that witch did to them are unspeakable. No one knew they were there until the kitchen where the secret door to her attic was caught on fire. But the house isn’t just haunted by them, especially since all those stories of her medical experiments on them didn’t pop up until the 1940s. People still recount moaning coming from underneath the kitchen at night though, and footsteps all through the house.”

“But in 1894, a tenant in the at the time apartment building, was found brutally murdered in his room, his things went though but nothing missing. He’d claimed earlier that year that there was a demon in that house, who wasn’t going to stop until he was dead. Next, when it was a girls’ school for black girls, the girls would come crying to their teachers, arms scratched and bruised all up and down, unable to tell who did it other than ‘that woman.’ There’s only ever been one recorded physical attack, a black man wrapped in chains who vanished after he charged an occupant. There’s other incidents, of course, some different than others, but plenty of people have made it out just fine. Many others, especially the young, have had ill effects however. But hey, the local ghost experts think it’s even more dangerous than that. Enough to tell me I’ll die if I enter.”

GM: All three girls fall silent at Amelie’s recounting of the LaLaurie House’s infamous horrors. Megan might’ve been close to done with her lunch anyways and doesn’t touch any further soup. Hannah only takes another bite or two of pasta. Rachel’s appetite, however, doesn’t slow down in the slightest.

“I heard that a teacher sexually abused the black girls,” she adds as she finishes up her ducks. “Different versions though. I also heard the 1894 tenant was found dead of dehydration and caked in his own crap. But all of that’s tame next to what LaLaurie supposedly did.”

“I heard she cut girls’ stomachs open and nailed their intestines to the floors,” the dark-haired girl continues excitedly, “and would stuff their mouths full of crap and then sew their lips closed-”

“We’re eating,” Megan says with an inflection of just-strained politeness.

“You were eating,” Rachel counters.

“Yeah, all the same, I think I’m gonna upvote Amelie’s version,” Hannah says.

Rachel hmphs. “Pussies.”

She then takes a sip from her lemonade and adds, “Madam LaLaurie did The Human Centipede before it was mainstream.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at the reaction to her story, even if she feels a little guilty that it ended their meals. Well, except for Rachel’s.

“Well… the 1894 difference might fit, since when the building was a furniture store, a thick black substance always ruined the inventory. Even when the owner stood up all night with a shotgun to protect it. But I’ll say those two little tidbits, the guts and mouths, weren’t nearly as bad as what was spread around in 1940 for horrific effect. And the school? I heard it wasn’t the all-black girls’ school, but a later music school that the newspaper shut down with allegations. Either way? My partner thinks I’m nuts for not wanting to go inside. The city I was born in is older than New Orleans, I was kinda raised around ghost stories.”

GM: Rachel looks fascinated by the topic and opens her mouth as if to add something further, but Megan beats her to the punch as she interjects, “I think it’s kinda moot whether anyone wants to go inside or not, though. The building’s private property.”

“Was your partner gonna break in?” Hannah asks.

Amelie: That’s the fourth person who’s said that now.

“I found out what bank owns the property. And we got permission for one night.”

GM: Rachel stares at that declaration. “Oh, you are so lucky.”

Amelie: “I’m not going. Trying to convince my partner not to go either.”

GM: “What? You don’t seriously believe that ghost crap, do you? My graunt would jump at something like this!”

“Well, she did get stabbed,” Megan says with a frown. “Can you blame her if she doesn’t wanna go in?”

“Yeah. I dunno, if something doesn’t make you comfortable, you shouldn’t do it,” Hannah says with an even deeper one. “I mean, I think it sounds fun. Night in a haunted house. But when something doesn’t feel safe, you should go with your gut.”

Amelie: Amelie finally finishes off her sandwich. The girls all have differing opinions and it makes her think on things.

“My gut tells me it’s not a good idea, that if my partner gets hurt going in there alone, I’ll feel responsible. But if I can’t convince her not to go? I’ll likely have to go as well.”

GM: “Oh, I don’t think your partner’s gonna get hurt,” Hannah says.

“My grandma visited the LaLaurie House when it was an apartment building and she came out fine,” Megan nods.

Amelie: Amelie perks up slightly and looks towards Megan. “Is your grandmother still living in the city?”

GM: Megan actually laughs. “Yeah, she is. I’m sorry. Just… don’t ever ask something like that to her face.”

Amelie: Amelie looks confused for a moment, then it dawns on her. She puts a hand over her mouth to hide a smile. “I’m sorry! Oh my god, my brain just went to ’she’ll probably not want to talk on the phone, so I should ask if I could sit down with her,’ not if she’s alive or not!”

GM: “What? Oh, no, no, she’s alive,” Megan says. “It’s just, our family’s lived in the city for over two hundred years. She’d flip her lid if someone ever said we should live someplace else.”

“Megan’s parents run Antoine’s,” Rachel explains. “It’s the oldest restaurant in the city.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and enjoys the news. Megan and Rachel are both very important people. “I feel like a peasant at this school when I hear things like that,” she laughs as she looks back to Megan.

GM: “Oh, that’s actually another thing she’d get… sensitive around,” Megan says. “Our family’s old but we’re not rich like the Malveauxes or anything. We just run a restaurant.”

Amelie: “More meaning that I worked in a store growing up. I don’t have any roots or businesses in my family or anything like that, grew up in a small town.”

“But did your grandmother ever talk about her time in the house? Was she there at night?”

GM: Megan shakes her head. “Not really, I just remember it from one of her stories. She said she went there to visit a friend one time and thought it could use a new paint job.”

Amelie: “That’s… useful, thank you. It backs up what I was thinking. Who is hurt in that house and who gets out without a scratch. I can’t tell.”

GM: The three girls trade glances with one another.

“You know that no one actually gets… hurt in there, right?” Rachel says dubiously. “There’s only been one guy who died, since LaLaurie was alive. And that happens in apartment buildings. People dying, that is. I mean, sure, he died caked in his own crap…”

Megan shoots her friend a ‘please?’ look. “If you don’t wanna go in the house, definitely, don’t… just don’t feel like you have to because your partner is,” the chubby blonde assures Amelie.

Amelie: It’s like two magnets finally got close enough to attract more than gravity. Frictions holds them and slams them together with a sharp clack. Amelie’s face slowly flushes red as she looks down at her hand.

GM: “Hey, are you okay…?” Megan asks concernedly, leaning a bit closer to Amelie.

Amelie: “You know, I think maybe getting poked shook me more than I thought. You’re right. Ha ha, this is a wired first impression, eh?”

GM: “Well, getting stabbed must’ve been pretty scary…” Hannah fills in.

“I’ve got it,” Rachel speaks up. “I can trade projects with you. Partners too. I’ve got Ms. Perry’s class too, for one of my periods. I bet she wouldn’t mind after you’ve been stabbed.”

Amelie: Amelie smiles at Rachel’s kind offer, but shakes her head. “It’s fine. You don’t have to do that. I’m going to think on it, and if I decide to stop being a baby, I’ll see if I can’t bring you with.”

GM: Rachel doesn’t swallow her lemonade so much as gulp it in an effort to reply faster.

“Grow up soon then! Seriously! I’d love to spend a night in that house! I’m a writer, that would be just… well, great.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the girl a small smile and considers her options. Maybe talking with the school psychologist will be a good idea.

“If nothing else, we’ll be taking pictures that you can see.”

GM: “Screw pictures, you can find those online. Spending the night in a haunted-”

“Rachel…” Megan entreats.

“All right, supposedly haunted house,” she amends, “would make an amazing short story, school essay, whatever.”

By this point both her ducks aren’t much more than blackened bits of gristle. Thee glasses-wearing girl takes a long gulp of lemonade. Megan sips her sweet tea. Hannah leaves her water untouched as she checks something on her phone.

Amelie: Amelie just smiles and picks up her soup, sipping it without the spoon and eying Hannah’s full water glass. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she found her dehydrated in the hospital. She doesn’t comment, but makes a mental note to talk with Hannah later.

“I’ll think about it, Rachel. Promise.”

GM: “You should tell her about the project you’re doing for that class,” Hannah comments.

Rachel looks as if she finds that prospect rather less engaging, but says, “I’m doing the McGehee Murders.”

Amelie: Amelie looks back to Hannah and picks up her own bottle of water. She gives it a pull to try and coax her into drinking herself as she nods. “I heard a few whispers about that. Were they seriously just straight-faced murders?”

GM: “The first one definitely was,” Rachel says. “That was Charlotte Beauregard back in the ’60s. Second degree murder.”

Hannah doesn’t drink from her water, but simply listens to Rachel as her friend continues, “Rebecca Whitney’s in 2004 was… messier. It wasn’t actually a murder, technically. But it’s catchier just to call them both murders.”

“The McGehee Second Degree Murder and Vehicular Homicide,” Hannah sardonically quotes.

Amelie: Amelie pauses. “Rebecca Whitney? I heard she died in a car accident, I didn’t hear anything about it being a homicide.”

GM: “The driver of the other car was drunk. I looked it up, that’s vehicular homicide,” Rachel explains.

“I heard that he was her ex-boyfriend and rammed her car when he saw she was with another boy?” Megan asks.

Amelie: “Weird. I would think that falls under manslaughter. Unless the whole ex thing is the case. I hear the prom’s kinda been tense since then though, at least as far as the administration.”

GM: “Manslaughter’s a type of homicide,” Rachel says. “But that part’s actually true, the guy behind the wheel was her ex-boyfriend. And she had gone to the dance with another boy. No one was able to prove he’d tried to kill her at the trial, but he still got 30 years at the Farm.”

“That’s the big prison up north,” Megan adds.

“Probably wouldn’t have gotten 30 years if he’d left her prettier,” Hannah snorts.

“Wow, that’s…” Megan.

“Well, it’s true,” Rachel flippantly agrees. “Her body was mangled so badly it had to be a closed-casket funeral. So if you’re gonna kill a girl from a family like the Whitneys, be sure to leave her pretty.”

“Yeah, I’ll be sure and do that.” Megan.

“Who gives the best advice?” Hannah.

“But anyways,” Rachel goes on, “here’s the ‘ghost stories’ bit. They say she still haunts the school dances.”

Amelie: “The Farm sounds incredibly menacing. But beyond that I don’t think I like the thought of a ghost haunting something already so awkward as a dance involving an all-girls school. Have a teacher hover over your shoulder to make sure you ‘leave room for Jesus.’ And then boo. Ghost. Or according to Rachel the ghost of ground beef.” Amelie taps her chin and wonders about the phenomenon.

GM: “We have boys come over for the school dances, they’re not like Mrs. Flores’ class or anything.” Hannah.

Megan looks confused. “Ground beef?”

“She means Rebecca Whitney got ground up like beef.” Rachel.

“Eww.” Megan.

Amelie: “Is the boy still alive? How have people said they’ve seen her at the dance?”

GM: “Yeah,” Rachel answers, “the guy’s still alive, just in prison. Not really a boy anymore, he’s like 30 now. And some of the stories say she shows up and crashes the cars of drunk exes and boyfriends. Or that she protects girls from jerk guys. I heard one that anyone who’s drunk can see her.”

“That’s convenient,” Hannah remarks. “A ghost only drunk people can see.”

Amelie: “No, Ms. Perry, this isn’t vodka, it’s research equipment,” Amelie jokes. She finally finishes off her soup and puts the dishes down on the tray.

GM: There’s a few chuckles.

Amelie: “And I meant the guy she was going to the dance with, the other guy in the car. Did he die as well?”

GM: “No, he’s still alive,” Rachel says. “Though he wound up in a wheelchair.”

Amelie: “Man, I feel sorry for him. How many times must he have been interviewed about that, or given stink-eye by the family.”

GM: “Well one of those times was by me. But I felt pretty sorry for him too,” Rachel agrees.

“Yeah… that would really suck to get put in a wheelchair right when you’re graduating,” Megan frowns. “When you’re leaving home, with your whole life ahead of you…”

“Yeah, he was still pretty emotional about the whole thing,” Rachel says. “He did say the Whitneys don’t like him at all.”

Amelie: Amelie nods sadly. She’s glad to hear that Rachel went and talked with the man for her project. The amount of grief that’d put a person through gives her secondhand heartache.

“What’s his name?”

GM: “James Dyer.” Rachel takes another sip of sweet tea.

Amelie: Amelie files away the name in a mental rolodex and nods along with Rachel. “I doubt I’ll be going to the dances, though.”

GM: “Why not? They’re fun,” Megan says.

Amelie: “If they’re anything like dances I’ve already been to, it’ll be awkward and weird.”

GM: “The middle school dances are on different days,” Hannah quips as she looks up from her phone.

Rachel snickers and takes a longer pull of tea.

“They’re not awkward,” Megan nods. “I mean, you’re taking Mrs. Flores’ class so you can dance, right?”

Amelie: Amelie looks to the other girls with a small smile. She feels like they knew this was going to happen. She wonders if Megan is innocent enough that she hasn’t yet thought ‘dyke’ like everyone else.

“Sure, but that’s not the part that makes it awkward.”

GM: “You should try coming to one. You can always leave if it feels weird.” Megan.

Amelie: “Only if the dress isn’t open-backed.”

GM: “Well, unless your parents pick out your clothes for you, you’re probably okay there.” Rachel.

Amelie: “If we all go, we can all go ghost hunting or something. We should probably start getting ready for afternoon classes, though.”

GM: “I think you go to dances to dance, not hunt for ghosts,” Hannah comments dryly.

Rachel checks the time on her phone at Amelie’s remark, but sees there’s still some minutes left. “Yeah, ghosts. You probably haven’t heard the story about the first McGehee murder, right?” she asks, changing the topic.

Amelie: Amelie perks up a bit and shakes her head. “No, never.”

GM: “Well it starts with a dance too.” Rachel looks thoughtful. “Huh, I should work that in.”

“Remember that girl I mentioned, Charlotte Beauregard? Or Lottie, that’s what everyone called her. During her junior year’s Sadie Hawkins dance, Lottie asked out a black football star from a public school. This was back in the ‘60s, so everyone was shocked. But Lottie didn’t budge, and her dad still gave her the keys to her sweet sixteen present: a brand-new Chevelle convertible. Lottie’s date was the only black guy at the dance, and everyone stared, but they stayed the whole evening.”

“After the dance, Lottie and her date drove to another party, but they got lost. When they stopped to ask for directions, Lottie’s ex-boyfriend and some of his friends were walking by. You can guess what he would’ve thought back then, seeing his girlfriend going with a black guy. Who ran off, by the way, after the three boys threatened to lynch him.”

Rachel’s eyes gleam again past her glasses as she continues in a low voice, “So those three boys, they all took Lottie right there and gang-raped her in the backseat of her birthday car. Tons of people heard. No one did anything.”

“The next day, the cops found Lottie’s corpse in that same backseat. It was beaten, barely recognizable, and still wearing the bloody tatters of her pink prom dress. The coroners said the boys beat her so badly so she couldn’t even move, so she bled to death, over hours, on the seat where she’d been raped.”

Megan looks a little queasy.

Rachel is actually grinning, but goes on, “It hit the city like Katrina. Everyone thought the black boy raped and murdered her. It didn’t help that he was missing either. There were mobs and lynchings all over the city, until the cops finally found him holed up in the Ninth Ward. He said he was innocent, and that the white boys did it. Well, that got him a seat on Gruesome Gertie. Flick.” Rachel pulls an invisible lever for emphasis.

“So that was that, right? But it wasn’t much later that one of the white boys got killed in a hit and run. There weren’t any witnesses, just bruising—that looked like a ‘64 Chevelle’s grill and tire marks. It showed the vehicle hit him, then reversed and ran him over—not once, not twice—but sixteen times.

“You think that Rebecca Whitney was ground beef,” Rachel says with something oddly between somberness and a giggle as she glances at the other three girls, “you should’ve seen this guy. The cops could only figure out who he was by his dental records.”

“Well, the cops looked for who did it, but they couldn’t find anyone—only that Lottie’s car, which the family obviously didn’t want back, was missing from the impound lot.”

“A couple years after that, weirdly, the cops arrested two more of the boys. One of them, Lottie’s ex, got sent to Gruesome Gertie too. The third boy’s trial was two years later, because he’d served in Vietnam. The jury convicted him, but he got a pardon from the governor, because of his family and how he was a war hero—he’d gotten a Medal of Honor. No one was upset though. He’d gotten burned by napalm during the war and came back with an iron lung, so everyone figured he’d suffered enough.”

Hannah interrupts. “Yeah, I’m sorry—actually, no, I’m not sorry—getting an iron lung and shiny medal doesn’t excuse what he did. He raped and murdered her.”

“Didn’t iron lungs… weren’t they machines that made it so he’d have to stay in bed for the rest of his life?” Megan offers. “It sounds like he might’ve paid his dues…”

Amelie: Amelie tries to see if any dots are going to connect and motions for Rachel to keep going. “Please tell me a car came through the front of his house, where his iron lung-laying ass was.”

GM: Rachel shakes her head. “Nope. He died in his bed a couple decades later.”

“Wow. Some justice,” Hannah remarks.

Megan holds up her phone and points at an “open web page.”: “But look at this, guys. It looks so awful…”

“It’s basically life in prison.”

“Text it to me?” Hannah says.

A couple pings go up from their phones. Hannah stares at her screen for a little while, then looks up. “Did he actually have to stay in one 24/7? Because not all those people are actually in the lungs.”

“I don’t know,” Rachel admits. “Just that he had to use an iron lung.”

Amelie: “Yeah, at that point, just build a guillotine around the end of that tube and end me. Still, I agree with Hannah. It feels a lot more like justice if they suffer more the way they hurt a person. Still, it fits. A few decades as a vegetable.”

GM: “I thought Canadians were too polite to want the death penalty?” Hannah half-questions, half-ribs.

Amelie: “At the advent of our country, too many people died of cold, sickness, and wildlife to afford having a death penalty. People still get drunk and dehydrated and pass out in snowbanks, buried in the snow just out of view until they die.”

GM: “That’s cheerful.”

“What is this ‘snow’ of which you speak?” Rachel asks.

Amelie: “Frozen flakes of hell. I don’t honestly believe in the death penalty, though. It’s too easily corruptible and expensive, like it was with this poor football guy.”

GM: “I think there are some people who deserve it,” Hannah says. “Like murdering rapists. Courts today are better than they used to be.”

“Well, even if you don’t think it’s wrong, she’s right that it is actually more expensive.” Megan.

“So I know this a little weird coming from me, but maybe we should talk about something else?” Rachel says.

“Eh, true. My grandma always says talking about politics isn’t polite,” Megan says. “So what happened next?”

“Not a lot, honestly,” the darker-haired girl continues. “Besides how no one ever found Lottie’s car. The police think a vigilante stole it and ran over the rapist for poetic justice. But I mean, sixteen times…”

Amelie: Amelie pauses and looks towards Rachel. “What’s the name of that 80’s movie? Christine? The one with the possessed car?”

GM: “Sorry, haven’t seen it.”

Amelie: “Culturally, Canada is like… never not the 1990s, so maybe that’s it,” she jokes, nodding. “Yeah, the car messes up a bunch of her owner’s bullies, I think?”

GM: “Well, if she hasn’t seen it, she probably doesn’t know.” Hannah.

Amelie: “I’m just saying, ‘ghost car.’”

GM: “I wonder what made the cops arrest the other two boys,” Megan says. “I mean, did the murder make them go over the old case again?”

“I actually tried to find out by looking up which detectives were on the case,” Rachel answers. “I thought there might be more people I could talk with. Maybe they had kids or were still around. But I couldn’t find any names, anywhere. Old records just got lost, I guess.”

Amelie: “Did you talk to your grandmother about it?”

GM: “She’s not my grandmother, she’s my aunt,” the glasses-wearing girl corrects. “By several ‘greats.’ But yeah, I did. She said police records don’t fall under the ones she keeps. She talked about how she remembered the case making headlines though. The original case, with Lottie’s rape, not the boys getting found guilty.” Rachel pauses. “Kinda funny to think how she was even older than us back then…”

“Yeah. I know what it’s like with my grandma. You really wanna value the time you have left…” Megan says.

“Three years,” Rachel says. Her smile this time has some actual warmth to it. “She’s 87. My dad says that even when he was a kid, she’d say how she was going to retire and die once she turned 90. I’ve told her that it’s nice to have a figure.”

Amelie: Amelie quietly apologizes and keeps listening. The story makes her lips slowly curl up into a fond smile. She’s never had a figure like that in her life. She had a strict mother who slapped her with metal sticks and tarnished memories of a sniveling drunken father. Now she just has her aunt. Someone who’s worthy of being called a figure in her life for certain, even if they’ve only really known each other for a couple weeks.

“She sounded great when she came to speak here. I bet you get to hear a lot of great stories.”

GM: “Yeah, she’s full of them. She writes a lot too. A couple books and a bunch of news articles, but also these… just crazy bodice rippers she probably thinks I don’t know about.”

Amelie: Amelie chuckles as she considers the post-menopausal senior who spoke at the school’s ‘start of the year’ speeches, and the way her several-times-great-niece also acts. It’s a pleasant enough topic, and the young woman hasn’t smiled for this long in a while.

Lunch looks like it’s going to be a lot less lonely from now on.

Tuesday afternoon, 25 August 2015

GM: The day’s remaining three periods roll by. Sixth period’s Ballroom Dance also proves less lonely when Amelie has two partners she knows. Hannah and Megan both play the woman when they dance with her. This prompts Mrs. Flores to chide as she moves among the waltzing partners, “Make sure you get in some practice as a lady too, Ms. Savard. You don’t want to be used to dancing like a man at real dances, now!”

Amelie: Amelie tries to play the woman as often as she plays the man, but Mrs. Flores still has to correct her every few classes. She doesn’t apologize, but instead just makes sure her next partner leads their dance. All this talk about dances leaves a small smile on her face as she wonders how a private boys’ school student would react to her sweeping him off his feet like a man. She puts her best into the class as always, however.

GM: Once sixth period’s closing bell heralds the end of the school day, Amelie is called to Bradish Johnson House over the intercom.

Amelie: It’s surprising to have her name called for what she assumes is the meeting she was already talked to about, but she heads over as requested.

GM: The homey-atmosphered Greek Revival building has the same eclectic age range of young children, tweens, teens, and the occasional parent that Amelie remembers from her last visit. The older black secretary she spoke to is dressed in a different cardigan but retains the same silver crucifix, and promptly directs her to the school psychologist’s office.

Amelie knocks on the door and is answered by a, “Come in please.” The figure who greets her is a tall and mature woman with a lined face and gray hair done up in a tight bun. She’s dressed in a lighter-hued seersucker skirtsuit with a tiny lapel pin depicting a star-circled American flag encircled by a gold wreath.

Pin.jpg “Ah, you must be Ms. Savard.” The woman is seated behind a desk with a computer as Amelie enters the room, but rises to greet her. “You can call me Mrs. Achord. Please, take a seat.” She motions towards a couch in the corner of the room.

Amelie: Amelie gives the woman a once-over as she steps inside. She pays special attention to the pin for just a moment, wondering what it signifies, before she sits down on the couch.

She keeps rather quiet. She remembers all the negative experiences she had with ‘therapy’ after being taken from her father.

“Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

GM: Indeed, after spending a good amount of her adolescence as a ward of the state, Amelie has been inside her share of offices belonging to social workers, therapists, and related professionals. Most of them had chairs rather than couches. Mrs. Achord’s does: the narrow plush leather sofa lacks armrests but is slightly curved at the bottom to support a patient who is lying down. The office’s walls are lined with bookshelves, framed diplomas and awards, several potted plants, and a picture of Sigmund Freud.

Amelie: Amelie scans the room carefully. She’s already getting a feeling for what this woman is like. The potted plants are a nice touch, though she wonders if they’re real or not. The much-debated Freud’s portrait is a bit of a put-off.

She sits up on the couch instead of laying down and rests her blazer beside herself to keep cool.

GM: The school psychologist picks up a notepad and pen from her desk, then sits down on a chair adjacent to Amelie’s couch.

“Ms. Perry said there were some things you wanted to discuss with me, but also that you were worried about being a bother. The first thing I want to say, Amelie, is that listening to the concerns of this school’s young ladies and helping them live up to their full potential is exactly what I am here for. Whether there is something I can help you with, or if it turns out that you’re managing just fine on your own, I will consider our session to be a good day’s work.”

Amelie: Listening to Mrs. Achord talk is a stark difference from Amelie’s earlier experiences. When she was a ward of the state, the people who talked with her always seemed overworked and underpaid. This woman seems more comfortable in her job. It also seems like she gets paid quite a bit more from the way her office is set up.

“I agreed to come because she was concerned about me, though. I was assaulted during the weekend. I don’t think you’ll have trouble with the ‘full potential’ part.”

GM: Mrs. Achord writes something onto her notepad.

“That does sound like something Ms. Perry was right to be concerned about, Amelie. I think you could benefit from talking about it, but you should also be here for you, not Ms. Perry. Would you still want to be spending your afternoon this way if she hadn’t expressed her concern?”

Amelie: “I don’t think so, no. I know I have unresolved issues, that I was shaken by the assault, but I don’t think I’d have come on my own. I don’t have a lot of experience with therapy, but what little I have hasn’t been a… positive experience.”

GM: “I’m very sorry to hear that, and all the more so when it sounds like there are issues a positive therapy experience could have helped you with. If you would prefer not to risk repeating a negative experience, however, the door is open.”

The school psychologist motions towards it.

“I will not be offended or tell any of your teachers if you choose to leave. No one can make the decision that being here is in your best interests but you.”

Amelie: Amelie looks to the door, but only for a moment. She’s already here, and she imagines Ms. Perry would be disappointed if she didn’t at least try this.

“I realize it’s in my best interests. It’s just awkward, I think. Out of my comfort zone.”

GM: “I’m sure a lot of things have been these past few weeks,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “I also understand that you’re also new to the United States.”

Amelie: “Yes. I’ve only been here a few weeks. The heat was difficult the first week here.”

GM: “There’s a reason you’ll find pitchers of water in everyone’s refrigerators down here,” the psychologist nods. “Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but especially newcomers.”

Amelie: “I’m used to that part at least. I grew up working in very hot conditions. Sweat and worked a lot.”

GM: “Oh, what did you grow up doing?”

Amelie: “It’s a bit silly to say out loud. I worked in a smithing shop in a re-enactment village called Bicolline.”

GM: Mrs. Achord smiles. “Really, did you? My husband is a member of the Civil War Reenactment Society. His idea of a fun weekend is to dress up in old uniforms, wave around old swords, and act out mock battles. We have a great deal of regard for our history in this part of the country.”

“Ms. Perry said that’s a passion of yours, too. She told me you’re the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic student she has in any of her Local History periods.”

Amelie: “Bicolline takes it quite a bit further, but I understand your point. I just think a lot of people find it surreal when I say ’I’m going to be a smith when I graduate’ and mean it. But that’s sweet of Ms. Perry. She’s a good teacher. And New Orleans history is something I really do enjoy. My aunt, who I live with now, bought me a book on this city’s history when I was a little girl and I kind of attached to the place.”

GM: The school psychologist’s eyebrows raise in mild surprise. “Now that’s a career choice I don’t hear from girls every day. You’d make the cavalry sabers that reenactment societies use?”

Amelie: “I could make their swords, their buttons, their clothes, their rifles, their cannons. As my father deteriorated, I had to grow up fast. I can also do period correct restorations, jewelry, replicas, and even furniture. I even plan to make arrangements with the krewes. Why order a part for a float when I can make one in 30 minutes.”

GM: “Oh my, that’s quite a bit more than ‘smith’ made me imagine. You could find those sorts of restorations very much in demand here. I have quite a few friends who own antiques and family heirlooms they want to keep well-maintained.”

Amelie: “Before I was allowed to make my first knife, I had to be trained in geometric forging. Make shapes out of white hot metals, then horseshoes, then chandeliers. All while making your own tools to solve problems. I look forward to restoration jobs, though. Being able to inspect and touch things centuries older than I am. I got shivers when I went to Jackson Square to that cathedral, even.”

GM: “Oh yes, you can find no end of old buildings in the Quarter to pour over. I’ve always liked the Cabildo, the old capitol where the colonial government used to meet. It’s right next to St. Louis, actually.”

Amelie: “It and the Presbytere are on my list of ‘must see’ places. I want to see how they measure up to each other as museums as well. It’s a shame the Cabildo seems to set on fire every few decades as well.”

GM: “At least it’s waterproof, so small favors.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “Damage to the Quarter was fairly minor during Katrina, thank goodness. As well as McGehee.”

She laughs. “But that’s ancient history to the girls now. They all have their eyes on the future. What about you? Do you plan on staying in New Orleans after you graduate, going home to Canada, or attending college somewhere else?”

Amelie: Amelie sees the segway coming the moment she hears ‘ancient history’, but nods to the woman. “Likely stay here and see if my business if viable. At least until I pay back my aunt. I’ve considered MIT in the past, they have a surprising history department, and of course top notch engineering courses. But I like the thought of staying here too. Even if living in New Orleans has rubbed some of the sparkle off what I imagined.”

GM: Mrs. Achord’s pen scratches across her notepad. “Yes. I can certainly imagine that it has. That’s very resilient of you to still want to live in the city.”

Amelie: “The first person I met in New Orleans was a driver named Oscar. I bet he’s lived here all his life. I’ve thought back on his words a lot since my bad weekend. ‘Loving someone isn’t always easy. This city knows too. She’s a lot to love.’”

GM: “That’s unfortunately all-too true,” the school psychologist nods. “There are a lot of things that make this city special. But many parts of it aren’t safe, and we have a very high crime rate.”

Amelie: “Among other things, yes. I find it sad. But I guess I should have been more careful of rose-tinted glasses.”

GM: “Being careful is always a good idea, but we are all ultimately responsible for our own behavior. The person who attacked you chose to do that, and to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the city.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses when Mrs. Achord steers the conversation back to the assault. She looks over her hand again and nods her head.

“After the assault, I wholeheartedly believed that the LaLaurie House was dangerous. I didn’t have evidence. Today at lunch, talking to friends, I realized that only one person has ever died in that house after the events. But my gut still feels off about it.”

GM: There’s more scratching from Mrs. Achord’s pen. “Tell me about that. What did you believe was dangerous about the house?”

Amelie: Amelie tries her best not to let the writing breaks get to her. “When I was assaulted, I was looking for information on the ghosts in the mansion. A card was slipped into my belongings for a fortune teller, saying something about life insurance. I found her. She read my palm, said I was going to die in my early 20s, and then stabbed my hand. It was difficult to get her off, despite her age, she was screaming about the house being a festering wound, that the ghosts inside would kill me.”

GM: “That must have been an extremely frightening experience. I’m so sorry it happened to you. It’s entirely normal and understandable that you would now harbor feelings of anxiety towards the house.”

Amelie: “I’m aware how it sounds, to say that I think ghosts could be a real threat.”

GM: However it might sound to Mrs. Achord, the woman’s face doesn’t waver as she replies, “Ms. Perry mentioned to me that you chose to work on the LaLaurie House for your class project. I could speak with her and arrange for you to work on something else, if you’d like me to.”

Amelie: “I can’t decide whether or not I should just go.”

GM: “I understand that the LaLaurie House is privately owned, but even seeing the outside of the house could be beneficial to you,” the school psychologist states. “That would fall under a technique called exposure therapy, whereby a patient’s anxiety is treated by gradually exposing them to its source. In other words, they conquer their fears by facing them. Physically visiting the house would also be a significant step, and not one that would need to happen immediately. It’s already a positive sign that you’re talking about your attack this openly.”

Amelie: Amelie considers it and slowly nods. “We’re going inside. Overnight. So maybe I shouldn’t be worrying so much and just… go.”

GM: “If you feel ready to visit the house, but only if, then doing so could be a good thing for you,” Mrs. Achord encourages. “I think that bringing someone else with you for support would also be a good decision.”

She glances down at her notes. “As I said, however, the LaLaurie House is private property. I do not recommend that you break the law by attempting to sleep inside.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know how many times she’s told people she’s gotten permission from the Whitneys, but for now she glazes over that point.

“I’ll do so then, I think. I have a few people that might like to go with me this weekend. So I’ll get over it. I’ll face that house like I face anything else.”

GM: The school psychologist appears less than assured by Amelie’s dodging of the topic. “Entering a house without permission is breaking and entering, Amelie. I think that it’s a good thing for you to face your fears, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of your future. The city takes damage to its historic properties very seriously. A criminal conviction will destroy any chance you might have of going to a good college.”

Amelie: “The Devillers and Whitney families know each other personally. I had special permission from the bank that owns the property—for just one night—before I even started my field work into the subject. I’d just like to stop spreading it around so much, if I cause a stir in return for their generosity.”

GM: “You could also do that by not mentioning you’re spending the night,” Mrs. Achord suggests. “But you are right, that is very generous of them. It sounds as if you’ve made some friends since starting school.”

Amelie: “It can be difficult when you’re having issues regarding it,” she admits. “And I have. But not how it seems. I was just partnered with Yvette and managed to speak with the right person the right way.”

GM: “Oh? You’d mentioned having a few people you wanted to invite along for the sleepover.”

Amelie: “Yvette will be bringing her sisters. I have to see if I want to bring along anyone I know. I’m still having anxiety over all this.”

GM: “You can always change your mind if visiting the house makes you feel too uncomfortable. Graded exposure therapy would take a more gradual approach than having you spend the night inside. But if you still want to do that, I think inviting someone you feel at ease with would be a good idea. Are there any other girls at school who you’ve gotten along with, or who simply seem like people you’d want to know better?”

Amelie: Amelie looks the woman over for a moment before looking back down at her hand. “My original fear was putting people in danger by going to this house. Should I really invite someone else?”

GM: “You are in no danger from the LaLaurie House, Amelie,” Mrs. Achord assures her. “It’s understandable that you would feel personally anxious about the house. But what do you expect to happen to someone else?”

Amelie: Amelie reaches up and rubs a scar on her shoulder. She bites her tongue as she thinks on the question.

“Sorry to deflect, but did you ever get that feeling in your spine when you were younger, walking up from the basement or out of a dark space in your house? Like something was about to grab you?”

GM: “I did,” Mrs. Achord answers. “My parents owned an old Victorian house in Baton Rouge. It had a large attic that was full of even older assorted junk. When I was very small, it was an absolutely terrifying place when the lights were turned off.”

“My older brother once tricked our middle sister into going inside as part of a hide-and-go-seek game, then turned off the lights and locked her inside. She was also very small, and screamed for hours that monsters were going to get her.”

“She was all but catatonic when my parents got home and let her out. When she could speak again, she cried that my brother had tried to kill her. I was even younger than she was and couldn’t have stopped him, but I still felt awful.”

“That attic terrified my sister for years afterwards. Our parents never sent her up to get anything. The monsters never quite went away for her—until they did.”

“The night when we were packing her things for college, she said that if she was going to leave home, she wanted to leave her fears behind too.” Mrs. Achord smiles faintly. “I remember thinking that speech sounded like something she’d prepared in advance. But she’d made up her mind that she was going to go inside that attic alone, even when I asked her not to. More like begged, in fact. I still remembered how terrified she’d been.”

“I couldn’t stop her, though, from going inside and closing the door. I’m sure she was still half-expecting some monster to reach out and grab her—or more likely, to hear the sound of the door locking shut.”

“But neither of those things happened, even after she stayed inside for a good ten minutes. She said some of the dust made her sneeze, and also that the attic was actually much smaller than she remembered. It was still a large attic, but to a child locked inside by themselves, it had to have seemed like the Tower of London.”

“My sister was no longer a child. She was a newly-independent adult, and one who realized it was time to set childish fears aside.”

“It is natural for children to be afraid of the dark. It equally natural, and part of growing up, for them to overcome those fears. Monsters are not real.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and continues to rub the spot on her shoulder as she listens to the story. Her hand is back on her lap by the end of it.

“I spent all my summers and weekends in the village we worked in. Over 350 acres of land. Lots of people that came to the village left at night to stay at hotels in a nearby town. But there were people who just… lived there in that village. I stayed there over summers, and remember always being scared of the woods. So vast, so dark, filled with all kinds of horrific sounds. My mom would tell me to such it up, to go and cut the forest down if I was so scared of it. My dad tried to comfort me over it. But there was an older metis woman who lived on the grounds and maintained them. She saw me staring into the tree line one night and told me something I’ll always remember.”

“Nous ne craignons pas les ténèbres parce que nous ne savons pas ce qui est à l’intérieur, mais parce qu’une partie de nous se souvient.” (“We do not fear the dark because we know not what is inside, but because a part of us remembers.”)

“I don’t know if going into the house will make me less afraid, but I think I need to go anyway. The house is ancient, and I’ll regret it if I don’t go and it turns out fine.”

GM: “You may be pleasantly surprised where your fears are concerned,” Mrs. Achord answers. “Have you heard the term ‘neuroplasticity?’ When we have new experiences, our brains forge new neural pathways and literally change their physical makeup as we adapt and expand our minds. Sleeping inside a house that makes you anxious will be a very significant new experience. Your brain will not have the same neural composition as when you leave.”

“I won’t lie,” the school psychologist continues in a somewhat more somber voice, “it’s possible that the experience may be too much and too soon. It could aggravate rather than alleviate your anxiety. Not all of the neural pathways our brain forges are beneficial to us. If a dog is improperly house-trained as a puppy, it’s that much harder to re-train them as a grown dog.”

“But I think you are a resilient person, Amelie, and can handle a visit to the house. I also think you will find it even easier to handle together with friends. To return us to that topic—are there any students at McGehee who you’d like to get to know better, or who you consider friends already?”

Amelie: “Biology isn’t my specialty, but I understand the idea. But I think ice bath exposure might suit me better. Not that I don’t have a week to gather myself and visit the house once or twice. But I’ll see if I can’t invite someone I’ve been sitting at lunch with, yeah. If I can get over that danger idea in the back of my head.”

GM: “Visiting the house from a distance also sounds like a good idea to me, whether you choose to go inside or not,” Mrs. Achord agrees. “That’s also very good you’ve found some girls to share lunch with.”

She glances down at her notes for a moment. “As someone new to the city, I’m sure you’ve found it difficult to meet many boys. Do you have any plans to attend the homecoming dance?”

Amelie: “I’ve only been here for a few weeks. I’m not really considering boys or dating just yet. Especially since this is an all-girls school and I’ve been focusing on the only year of education I’ll be able to receive here. But the dance has been brought up, so I’m considering it. Is it really a homecoming dance if the school has no football team, though? I thought that was the point of ‘homecoming?’”

GM: “The point is to throw a dance where young girls and boys can have a fun time together,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “If you don’t have too much coursework keeping you buys, I think we could even make that your homework assignment for this session. You won’t need to worry over having a date or not—it’s not as if the boys only stick with one partner, so you’ll get plenty of turns on the dance floor. If anything, going without a date could relieve some of the pressure.”

Amelie: “Do you mind if I ask why the sudden focus on it?”

GM: “On the dance, you mean?” Mrs. Achord asks. “As you are new to both New Orleans and McGehee, Amelie, I am concerned that social isolation may be contributing to your anxiety over the house. That’s also due to the attack you suffered, of course. But feelings of loneliness are proven to have a profoundly negative effect on many anxiety disorders as both a cause and symptom. Social isolation can also negatively impact academic performance, personal health, and countless other areas of your life. That’s why I am thrilled to hear you are making friends you can share your lunches with. Attending a school-wide event such as homecoming will help maintain that positive trend and allow you to enjoy the many benefits that come with maintaining an active social life.”

Amelie: “I’ll admit I was lonely before I found these girls. I’m not used to politeness including thistles universally. Either way, I’m still not sure how I’ll enjoy a dance like this, but I’m willing to try it. I was mostly asking to add onto a small personal theory of mine. Though as for my academic performance, I can assure you that I’m dead set on 100%s in each of the classes I’m graced with being able to attend this year. Social standing or not, I enjoy school on its own merits.”

GM: “I’m glad to hear that you’re willing to stretch yourself,” Mrs. Achord smiles. “Homecoming is the Friday after this one. I think we should meet again after school next week, to talk about how your visit to the house went. You can tell me what dress you’ve picked out, and what advice you’ve gotten from talking to other classmates or adults. Do you have any particularly favorite teachers?”

Amelie: “I think I’m done asking advice, I’ve gotten a lot of different opinions, I think it’s going to come down to my thought process. As for the teachers? I think the only teacher I’m not in love with is my Inorganic Chemistry teacher, Dr. Ward. I showed up late to her class on the first day, and I’ve been on eggshells with her since to make up for the bad first impression.”

GM: “You know, Benjamin Franklin had a similar problem to yours once,” the school psychologist remarks. “My dad loved to tell me this story. Franklin had just been elected clerk of the General Assembly in Philadelphia, but one of the richest men in the Assembly disliked him bitterly. The man denounced him in public talks, which was dangerous, so Franklin decided to make the man like him.”

“He thought about offering the man a favor, but ‘that would have aroused his suspicions, maybe his contempt.’ Franklin was much too smart for that. He asked the man to do him a favor instead. He didn’t ask for anything so tasteless as money, but instead, whether he could borrow a certain ‘very scarce and curious’ book from the man’s library. That touched the man’s vanity, by subtly expressing admiration for his knowledge and achievements.”

“Sure enough, the man lent him the book, and they remained great friends until his death—or so my dad’s story went. You might benefit from asking Ms. Ward for tips on enjoying yourself at homecoming. How to dress, how to dance, how to meet boys at a girls’ school, and the like. She’s one of our school’s younger faculty, so homecoming dances aren’t too distant a memory for her.”

Amelie: “You don’t think it might be better to take the angle of her profession? I’m taking Inorganic Chemistry for a reason, I could ask her about suppliers of sodium borate I’ll need for by business, or ask about temperature storage now that I’m in a subtropic environment for acetylene tanks. As much as I’m sure she’d be proud of be coming to her for fashion advice, I don’t think we’re personal enough for that kind of approach.”

GM: “I think that Ms. Ward would be willing to help you, Amelie, if you explained that you were new to the school and this was your first homecoming with us. Every teacher here wants to see girls succeed, socially as well as academically.”

“But engaging her over her job sounds like an excellent idea too. I’m sure that she would also be glad to recommend her sodium borate suppliers to you.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “Then that’s what I’ll do. For now, I think I’d like to start off. My hand needs a bandage change, wounds discharge plasma the first few days even after the bleeding stops.”

GM: “Wonderful. You can let me know how that goes next week.” The school psychologist hashes out a time and date for Amelie to next stop by, then rises from her seat to open the door as they exchange goodbyes.

“Remember what I said about your experiences forging new neural pathways in your brain. You won’t be the same person who leaves the LaLaurie House as the person who entered it.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story One, Alice V
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Story One, Amelie VI

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”
Césarine “Tantsy” Rouselle

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: In contrast to Bourbon Street’s gaudy, neon-lit sleaziness, the adjacent Royal Street is frequented by locals as well as tourists. True to its name, the historic street projects a more refined and dignified image than its northern neighbor. Visitors come here for galleries, restaurants, museums, and shopping at arts and antique stores that range from kitschy to high-end. Nearly every building seems to have a second floor wrought iron balcony railing dripping in ivy, greenery, and flowers. Street artists, buskers, and mimes still entertain picture-snapping passersby, but the homeless people and gutter punks from other parts of the Quarter are absent. Jazz drifts from fewer bars and clubs. The ones still present seem higher-class, and feel unlikely to tolerate drunks looking for a loud and riotous time that ends with someone heaving their stomach’s contents over the banquette.

Amelie’s path takes her to a three-story house built in the second-generation Creole style that is easily recognizable by its distinctive L-shape, flush position to the sidewalk, French doors, broad roofline supported by light wooden colonnettes, and generous, traditional wrought iron gallery overflowing with potted red and pink geraniums. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.) A wooden sign hangs from the red-bricked building’s front entrance. Faded and crammed-in letters read:

Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry

Amelie has to squint to make out the last two words below the shop’s name. They are even smaller and their paint is even more faded.

Since 1721

A more legible sign on the double French doors reads simply:


Amelie: 1721. If the owners aren’t lying about their heritage, this building has been standing since the Treaty of Nystad. Not even the nearby cathedral is that old, and just thinking about it gives Amelie momentary vertigo. She smooths a hand over the building’s brick and wonders if it’s been replaced since it was built.

She finally collects herself and steps inside, business card in hand.

GM: A store’s telltale chiming bell sounds as Amelie pushes the door open. The smell of old books, incense, and stranger things has barely filled her nostrils before three mewing cats—one gray tabby, one orange tabby, and one calico—rub up against her legs. Further meows sound from further inside the store. It’s a dark, claustrophobic space cramped with overflowing bookshelves, ancient paint-cracked radiators, and occult knick-knacks ranging from pin-stabbed voodoo dolls to coiled, insignia-painted snake skeletons that stare at Amelie with empty eye sockets. Pentagrams, dream-catchers, and apotropaic talismans dangle from ceilings and partly obscure the doorways’ bead curtains.

Cats are everywhere. They roam over the stage prop furniture, track soiled cat litter over the floor, and crouch from perches atop bookshelves to silently watch the store’s patrons. Two felines even lie sleeping on the countertop that shares the cash register. They casually claim the whole space without regard for the dark-haired person who is also trying to use it. Amelie isn’t sure if they’re a man or a woman. They’re South Asian, look somewhere in their twenties, and are dressed in a yellow… Amelie isn’t sure what it’s called either. Some kind of Indian-looking robe or dress. They’re also bedecked in a multichromatic array of crystal- and wood-beaded bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. A red bindi stares unblinkingly from their forehead while they chat with the store’s sole customer besides Amelie: a dreadlocked, unwashed-looking woman with unshaven legs who’s dressed in a half-torn, raggedy top, patch-quilted skirt, plain sandals, and animal tooth necklace. There’s a half-stoned look to her face as she fumbles through a pentagram-emblazoned bag and produces a fistful of one-dollar bills and assorted change that the South Asian person patiently counts by hand.

Amelie: Amelie finds herself assaulted by cats and doesn’t mind in the least. She leans down to give the three felines rubbing against her legs some love and affection before she carefully steps over them towards the desk. The animal lover in her keeps on the lookout for bombays, or black cats: her favorite breed of furred micro-predators. Still, she pulls herself together enough to clearly address the person behind the desk.

“Excuse me? Is Tante in? I was invited here to see them.”

GM: Amelie can spot at least one bombay among the mass of felines, along with a dozen other breeds ranging from pale-coated Siamese to gray-furred British shorthairs. The shop’s cats vastly outnumber its human residents, whose numbers are reduced by one-third after the unkempt-looking woman takes her leave with a mumbled thanks and plain brown bag of merchandise. The smells of pot and a deodorant-free lifestyle linger in Amelie’s nose.

“Namaste,” the other person responds to Amelie, clasping their hands together in a prayer-like gesture of greeting. “I am afraid dat Tante has been dead for over two hundred years. De shop today is managed by Césarine. Are you here to see her?”

Amelie: The cat Amelie spots becomes an instant favorite, but she keeps her attention forward as the woman in front of her departs and leaves her alone with the strangely-dressed person at the desk. The East Indian greeting throws her off at first, as does the rather morbid ‘news.’

“I guess I am. I assumed it was either a title or the store was renamed,” she offers, leaning against the desk. “Can I see them, then?”

GM: “Tante Lescaut vas de founder ov de shop. She built it from noting and left so much ov herself behind. To rename it vould have been untinkably vain,” the South Asian individual explains, smiling faintly. “De shop has alvays been Tante’s and vill alvays be Tante’s.”

Amelie: Amelie nods at the statement. It makes sense the store keeps a name that old to link back to its supposed history. She also has to wonder if the original Tante also kept so many cats around, though she’s not complaining.

GM: “But yes, Césarine, she is in. Césarine!” the Indian person calls loudly, turning towards a doorway with a bead curtain. “Césarine, we have a visitor!”

“Eh? Dat a cussomer?” comes an old-sounding woman’s gumbo-thick Creole reply.

“A visitor, Césarine! Maybe a customer,” Amelie’s initial greeter calls back.

“All righ’, all righ’, one momen’…”

Amelie: The Creole accent a small tip off as to what Amelie is dealing with. She stands up straight and stands there with the card in her hand as she waits for the woman to come out.

GM: Several feline mews and the faint rustle of beads heralds the elderly proprietor’s arrival through the curtain. Her skin is lumpy all over and so black it has a purple sheen, while her hair so grayed and frizzy that it looks like half-worn S.O.S. pads. Her sunken cheekbones are struck with rouge and her upper eyelids are painted with fluorescent shades of pale lilac. She wears a blue moo-moo stitched with yellow stars, moons, and more esoteric planetary symbols, along with bifurcated librarian glasses that look plucked straight out of the 1960s. Three cats purr and circle around her spider-veined, swollen legs and sandal-beaded feet.

The old woman squints at Amelie past her glasses. “Eh? You a vis’tor, boy? Dat a cussomer or what? An’ I keep tellin ya, Bala, is’ Tantsy.” The latter remark is addressed towards the Indian person.

“Ov course, Tantsy. I suppose dat I just have a bad memory for names,” they reply with a faintly amused smile.

“Ya go’ da righ’,” Césarine or Tantsy replies to Bala before turning back to Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie stiffens just a bit when she hears the woman on the other side of the beads starting to stir. ‘Tantsy’ sounds a little ornery about things, but Amelie keeps her cool as the woman slides out from the back followed by even more cats. Maybe she’s the source of all the feline intruders. But at least Amelie learns what the woman prefers to be called.

GM: There’s a brief spark and flame from a cigarette lighter before she lifts what looks like a hand-rolled joint to her withered lips and takes a drag.

“Well g’wan, boy, cat got ya tongue?” The old woman gives a smoky, pot-smelling laugh as she bends down to scratch a black- and white-spotted feline behind its ears.

Amelie: Amelie produces the card for the woman. “Afternoon, Miss Tantsy. I was talking with a priest at the cathedral about something private, and someone put this on my back,” she explains.

“Ça a mis un peu de froid dans ma colonne vertébrale.”

(“It put a chill up my spine.”)

Her eyes flick up to see the woman’s reaction to her relaxed French. She hopes non-metro French dialects can speak more easily.

She leaves Tantsy think whatever she wants about her gender. The old woman seems to surround herself with androgynous people anyway.

GM: Tantsy squints at Amelie through her ’60s glasses. “English, boy.”

She takes the card and holds it up to the light in inspection, squinting the raisin-like flesh around her eyes still further.

“Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, dere some ec’oplasm on dis, I tink, ligh’ isn’ too goo’… prolly a ghos’ put it on ya, maybe Pere Antoine.”

Amelie: “I’d doubt Pere Antoine. Dead in 1829, I doubt he drinks coffee or knows what life insurance and slumber parties are. I’m more interested in what you might know about the LaLaurie House, and what whoever put this on me thinks is life-threatening.”

GM: Tantsy takes another drag of her joint, withdraws it, and waves around the lipstick-smeared article.

“Naw, naw, I joshin’ ya dat it be da father. But we see lotta ghoss’ roun’ ere who we try an’ help, maybe onea em doin’ us a good turn, sen’in’ us some bi’ness.”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at that statement. Either it’s a scam or Tantsy really believes what she’s talking about.

The young woman keeps an open mind as much as she can. After all, Quebec City’s Château Frontenac isn’t just one of the most photographed hotels in the world, but supposedly one of the most haunted as well.

GM: Tantsy motions to Amelie and ambles her way over to a rickety-looking table whose surface is covered with broken candelabras and half-melted wax candles, packs of tarot cards, dried scattered tea leaves, assorted rings and necklaces, and sticks of incense. Several cats are nestled among the table’s junk and adjacent chairs. Tantsy sits down on one without glancing at its feline occupant, which gives a startled meow and awkwardly bolts from its spot.

“G’wan, boy, siddown, siddown,” Tantsy gestures. “Wha ya say ya name was?”

Amelie: Amelie takes a seat at the table as well, but is a bit more careful. She picks up whatever cat is on the seat and places it onto her lap.

“Amelie. Amelie Savard, miss.”

GM: The orange-eared calico squirms as Amelie disturbs its rest, but settles down when she sets it back down.

“Well, I be Tantsy Rouselle, an’ ya gon’ call me missus or ma’am when ya talkin’ ta me, Mistuh Sartre, I’s old ’nuff ta ave earned it,” Tantsy remarks between another drag of her lipstick-smeared joint.

Bala approaches Amelie with a tray bearing two cups of herbal-smelling dark liquid. “Vould you care for tea?”

Amelie: “Apologies, Mrs. Rouselle. I didn’t mean to offend,” she corrects, petting the cat on her lap as she nods politely to Bala. “Yes, thank you.”

She turns back to the old woman and fixes her posture slightly. “Mrs. Rouselle, you said you help ghosts? May I ask you how?”

GM: The tea smells like mint. It tastes like stale sugar and a horse’s kick to Amelie’s mouth. It’s incredibly strong.

“Oh, well, dey always go’ dings dey wanna say ta deir loved ones. I lissens ta em, an’ I translates, an’ dey move on, but sometime dey stay, I guess dey jus’ like bein dead,” Tantsy remarks over a slow sip of her own tea. If it tastes anything like Amelie’s does, the old woman doesn’t look at all perturbed.

She lays her elbow on the table and extends her hand towards Amelie, palm up. “Gimme ya han’ now, Amanda, if ya please. Ya lef’ one,” she adds, “future slumba party, n all, we gon’ read ya lef’, dat da han’ dat show pohenshul, things y’ain done yet.”

Amelie: Amelie makes a small face when the tea hits her lips. It tastes like it’s gone bad. But it’s impolite to refuse and she sips it again as she listens to Tantsy. She wants to remark that ‘Amanda’ isn’t her name either, but she lets it go. She offers her left hand to the old woman while wondering how much of this she actually believes, and how much is simply showmanship to sell her store.

“Yes, Mrs. Rouselle.”

GM: The sugar is definitely stale, but the tea itself doesn’t taste bad. Just strong. It punches Amelie bloody in the mouth and kisses her passionately to make up. She can already hear her heart loudly thumping in her ears with the second drink.

“Oh no, wai’, wai’, we gon’ do it da Chinese way,” the woman says after a moment. “Gimme ya righ’, das’ da han’ ya be afta ya grows up.”

Amelie: Amelie hates the tea by now. She doesn’t say anything, but gladly takes an excuse to put the cup down when Tantsy changes her mind. She offers her left hand without complaint.

GM: The woman takes Amelie’s hand, holds it up to the light, and squints deeply through her ’60s glasses.

“Lesse, ya life line… oh, now das’ thick an’ clear, like da Miss’ippi if it wasn’ da Miss’ippi. Haw haw! Ya good a’ sports an’ roughin’ it… oh, dis line swoops too, da’ means ya fulla energy an’ vigor, is da’ righ’, you an active boy?”

Tantsy squints harder at Amelie’s hand, runs her finger down its center as if tracing a line, and then connects her finger to the middle space between Amelie’s ring and middle fingers. A frown creases her wrinkled face.

“No, na dere… les’ try f’ a few more years.”

She drawls a line to the bottom of Amelie’s thumb that’s parallel to the first line and another thumb-span lower. She then looks up at Amelie and offers a wrinkly smile.

“Okay, goo’ news, Amanda, ya gon live ta be ‘roun eigh’y years ol’. Very full life.”

Tantsy turns Amelie’s hand slightly, as if to to get a better view under the light. Her thin white eyebrows abruptly shoot up past the frames of her glasses.

“Whoa! Oh… no… I read da’ all wrong…”

Tantsy sets down Amelie’s hand, but doesn’t release it as she quietly says, “Amanda, I’m very sorry, but ya gon’ live ta be ‘roun twenty. Cou’ be off a few years… dese lines only measure in scores. Dat means twenties. Cou’ be ya… pass pretty soon… or before ya hit forty.” She looks down at Amelie’s palm again, then back up at her. “I’m real sorry… how old’s ya now?”

Amelie: Amelie is less than impressed by Tantsy’s reading. The woman confuses her gender again and claims she’s physically active, but anyone could tell that from the thickness and muscle tension of her arm. Tantsy claims she’s going to have a full life, then suddenly takes it back when she ‘gets a better look.’ It’s not good news, but it’s probably a scare tactic. A ‘maybe you can change your fate with this trinket’ kind of scare tactic. Amelie just keeps a stony face through the entire reading.

“It’s Amelie. I’m twenty,” she states as she looks the woman across the table up and down. “Why the Chinese way? Would you get a different result other ways?”

GM: Tantsy’s lip twitches once when Amelie points out her actual name, as if to say ‘I knew that,’ but her expression remains solmen.

“Dere lotta diff’ren ways ta do it,” she says slowly. “Ya migh’ dink of it as usin’ inches or feet or meters da measure somethin’… ya get diffren’ numbers, da’ ya use for diff’ren dings, but dey measure da same space… I’m sorry, Amber, but usin’ anotha ruler won’ make ya life any longer or shorter. Cou’ migh’ tell us more abou’ why.”

Amelie: It sends a chill up Amelie’s spine when the woman’s expression remains solemn, but her face stays stoic as she nods along at Tantsy’s logic. Even if it’s for a ridiculous subject, at least it sounds like logic in the vacuum of it the store has been so far.

“I don’t think that would be wise. There’s more than a few legends about people who drove themselves to their deaths obsessing about the ‘how’ and ‘when.’”

Amelie clears her throat and takes a bracing breath before she takes another sip of the offered tea, forcing it down the best she can.

“Who knows, I may die by the hands of the LaLaurie House’s spirits. Though the reason I’m here is I’d prefer that doesn’t happen.”

GM: The tea tastes like another solid punch to Amelie’s mouth. The calico in her lap gives a wide yawn, briefly displaying its fangs. Tantsy seems to think on her statement for a moment. Lines tug across her wrinkled features.

“Prefer na happen… mmm… well, les’ look at it dis way, Amber.”

Her equally lined green-nailed hands trace Amelie’s for a moment, before she cups the younger woman’s hand in hers and holds it up to the candlelight.

“Look a’ ya skin dere, boy.”

Tantsy releases one of her hands from Amelie’s and paws through the table’s cluttered junk. The cats remain indifferent until Tantsy feels at some object underneath a large-eared tabby. “G’wan, git,” she declares as she pushes her hand beneath the sedentary feline’s belly, then abruptly lifts it up. The cat jostles up and gives her an almost undignified look before haughtily pawing its way across the table.

There’s a bright flash, meanwhile, as candlelight reflects off the cold steel of the dagger now in Tantsy’s grasp. Not a knife. A dagger.

It’s made of brass with a solid ivory handle that’s secured to the hilt by a tarnished-looking copper ring. The life-long weaponsmith identifies the secespita on sight. It was used by the priests of ancient Rome and their wives in sacrifices, she recalls. The blade would have been iron rather than true steel—and the one before her actually looks like iron too. It doesn’t look very well-cared for, Amelie assesses critically. It’s rusted. Chipped. Dull. Not something she’d want to rely on in a fight. But it can still cut.

Tantsy absently waves the sacrificial blade through the air as she continues to talk, still clutching Amelie’s hand, “Now den, Amber, wha’ happen if I gives ya han’ a goo’ nick wi’ dis ol’ thang?”

Amelie: Amelie jumps as she sees the blade but doesn’t pull her hand away. It’s strange to see a black woman using a dagger of that origin. She has to wonder how old it is.

“Secespita, Roman, ivory handle looks firm still, the blade is a mess but it’s still likely iron. You can rub the rust off if you put it to soak in a zip-lock of lemon juice for an hour,” she says, more to ease her own nerves than inform the woman holding it.

But the prospect of that old blade cutting her hand is only concerning from the standpoint of how cleanly it can cut. Jagged cuts scar. Still, curiosity keeps hold.

“Likely if you cut me with that blade, you’re making a sacrifice to something or someone, right?”

GM: The old woman slams Amelie’s hand onto the table and stabs the dagger straight into her palm.

Amelie: Alarm bells sound in Amelie’s head a second too late to save her. The young woman screams bloody murder as the knife punctures straight through her palm, slamming into the wood beneath.


Blood erupts from the jagged wound in her palm, her eyes flaring wide as saucers between the searing pain and suddenness of the attack. She instinctively leaps upright, sending the cat flying and digging the blade even deeper into her flesh.

Howling past the second stab of pain, she grabs the old woman’s wrist with her left hand, frighteningly tight. She looks ready to murder the old hag right there with her own dagger.

“Let—GO. NOW!!!” she bellows.

GM: The calico on Amelie’s lap yowls as her abrupt rise sends it tumbling off. She doesn’t see whether it lands on its feet. The chair hits the floor with a crack, followed a split-second later by another one from the old woman’s wrist (with an accompanied pained hiss) as Amelie pins it beneath her foot. The pair’s violent motions send assorted junk crashing off the table as cats hiss, flatten their ears, and bush their tails.

“Tantsy? Vhat vas dat?” calls Bala’s voice.

Tantsy does not answer it. She futilely strains against Amelie’s hold for a moment, her thick eyebrows bushing together past her ’60s glasses, then throws back her head and laughs.

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Silly boy. Ya bleed. Das’ wha’ happen when I cut ya! ‘Makin’ a sacrifice’, das’ jus’ dressin’ up wha’ I’s arready done.”

Blood continues to painfully well from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm, red and thick against the chandelier-light. The old woman’s overlarge eyes remain riveted on that bleeding font as she cackles,

“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw!!!”

Amelie: The pain in Amelie’s hand is getting to be too much for her to think of anything else but ‘get it out.’ Her face still hardens. Not into a grimace, but a slack expression that shows the old woman nothing but cold stone as she laughs and haws. Stabbing the woman back in her own hand crosses Amelie’s mind more than a little, but it’s been a long day. Too long. Still, there’s a strangely calm and oddly warm sensation in her gut at the situation.

She reaches down with both hands to pry the old woman’s fingers off the dagger. Her foot moves just enough to press her attacker’s hand and not wrist under its newly-purchased sole as she curls her own hand around the secespita and pulls.

The dagger’s slightest movement finally breaks the shock that was keeping her from screaming. Her stone-like expression crumbles as she grits her teeth and her eyes start to well. It feels like someone is pulling her nerves out of her skin with dental floss and playing them as a morbid instrument.

“Ba—Bay—Bala! Get the fuck in here!!!” she yells in a raw and pained voice as backs away from the table, ready to kick the old crone if she gets too close.

“You stabbed me right through the hand, you senile cunt! This rusted hunk of shit will rip out my fucking tendons, and you just STABBED me with it!? What were you planning for afterwards?! The Romans made an incision above the elbow pit to blood-let, you didn’t even use the right cunt-forsaken knife!!!”

“Ta mère est une prostituée qui suce les animaux de la ferme. Ton père est baisé dans le cul par des marins pour gagner sa vie. Vos frères et sœurs vous ont baisé comme un bébé pour lubrifier votre trou du cul pour quand il rentrait à la maison!”

(“Your mother is a whore who sucks off farm animals. Your father is fucked in the ass by sailors for a living. Your siblings fucked you as an infant to lube your asshole for when he got home!”)

GM: Tantsy cackles dementedly. Flecks of spittle fly from the rim of her brightly lipsticked mouth. “Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw-haw!!! Ya din’ ‘spec’ me ta stab ya, now di’ ya? I’s a harmless ol’ lady, isn’ I? Now wha’ on earth make ya dink a housea ghosts gon’ be any safer, ya silly boy?”

Amelie makes out footsteps sounding from deeper within the shop. They’re followed by an abrupt crash.

“Hell, I even ask ya, ‘wha’ happens if I stab ya!’ Haw-haw! Haw-haw!” the old woman laughs on. “Ya go’ ya head in da clouds! Say ya stab my han’ ta get even, Amber, den stick it in shi’, jus’ f’ lagniappe, an’ don’ lemme wash it. What happens den?”

Amelie:WHO has their heads in the clouds!? And what happens when the police come asking why you STABBED me in the fucking hand just to give me some bullshit about festering wounds!?” Amelie barks. She strides into the other room to look for the assistant, following the crashing sounds.

GM: Several more “haw-haws!” follow Amelie past the bead curtain. The room on the other side is cluttered with an equally haphazard collection of junk and occult bric-a-bric. One of the bookshelves is tipped over. Just behind it, past the scattered books and mewing cats, Amelie can make out a motionless human arm. Several cats listlessly circle around it.

Amelie: Amelie groans, holds her wounded hand palm up, and carefully balances the embedded knife as she grips the bookcase with good hand. She uses it and her leg to slowly pull the heavy furniture off of the East Indian cashier. It’s a difficult job with just one hand, but she rights the bookcase completely straight and holds it there in case it tries to tip again.

“Hey! Hey, are you okay!? Don’t make me witness my first death by literature! Get up!”

GM: Blood continues to leak from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm. Each grunt, push, and jostle with her good hand feels like someone is twisting a hot brand against her bad one. Several books tumble from the shelves as she hoists the case back up. Bala lies underneath it and does not stir or respond.

Amelie: Dyke they call her. Dyke dyke dyke like unimaginative parrots. But a working woman knows what that kind of pain is like. She shrinks her arm against her chest as she kneels and tosses books aside to get a clearer view of Bala’s face.

BALA! Wake the FUCK up!” she yells.

GM: More cats mew and scatter at the tossed books. Bala’s face looks uninjured, so far as Amelie can tell, but neither do they respond to her entreaties.

Then, there’s a sudden jolt of pain in Amelie’s throbbing wrist. The young woman is yanked up and all but slammed against the wall. Her vision starts to swim.

“Fool boy!” Tantsy bellows. Her once-sleepy eyes are bulding and livid even behind her glasses. “Look what ya gone an’ done!

Amelie: Amelie was about to reach for her phone until a new gut-wrenching surge of pain makes her eyes cross. It’s only when she feels the wall slam against her back that a familiar feeling strikes again. That rising wave of fury behind her eyelids pushes at her to feed this old woman her own teeth.

YOU did this, you old bag! Who isn’t going to scream out when you STAB them!!! Stop hawwing like a donkey lunatic and call a fucking ambulance!”

GM: “I’ll tell ya what happen, I stick ya han’ in shi’!” Tantsy screams. Spittle flies in Amelie’s face from gnashing yellow teeth.

“It FESTER! Why, I stick ya han’ in dere long ‘nough—doctors gon’ chop it OFF!”

The old woman seizes Amelie’s injured, bleeding hand and dashes it against the wall. The sudden impact jostles the embedded dagger agonizingly free. Blood messily spurts over both women’s clothes.

“Maybe dey DON’ chop it off! Maybe dey leave it on ta FUCK YA, an’ it FESTER!” Tantsy screams and raves as Amelie’s blood drips down her face. “Turn green an’ smell an’ make ya DIE! Unnatural! Unnatural! Dere ain’ NO PLACE in nature ya cut ya han’ an’ keep it STUCK IN SHI’!”

Amelie: Amelie gets it again. That cold feeling.

Her good hand snatches out to catch the dagger’s familiar handle as it drops. She grunts, struggles against her attacker’s hold, and tries to get some proper footing as she starts to take this conflict seriously. If the old crone wants a knife fight, she’ll get one.

GM: There’s another jolt of pain as Tantsy smashes Amelie’s so-tender hand against the wall, once, twice, three times. The dagger’s hilt strikes the toe of her sneaker as the blade clatters against the floor. Sweat beads the old woman’s brow and trickles down the spattered blood already there as she screams into Amelie’s face,

“DA WORLD! World be YA SKIN! Lined! Ugly! OKAY! Even da par’s da’ CUT! Scar over, heal up goo’!”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut turns as the knife hits her shoe. Her cold resolve to stab an old lady shatters into another held-in scream of pain as her already hurt hand gets abused again. She needs t-

GM: “Das’ natural! NATURAL!” The old woman cackles dementedly. Lipstick-hued spittle leaks from the corners of her animated mouth. “Haw-haw! Natural! Haw-haw! HAW-HAW! HAW-HAW!

“Dere par’s!” she exclaims, shoving her face into Amelie’s, so close their noses brush. The bleeding youth can feel Tantsy’s pendulous, wrinkled breasts pressing against hers. “Par’s da been STABBED! Dat been hel’ in SHIT! Turned green! Fes’ered! DIED! Doctors can’ chop ‘em off! OFF! Oh no! Oh no! NO! Dey infected! DEY do da choppin’! Chop up da people da’ go in! CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!

Tantsy’s voice drops to a whisper. Almost intimate. Amelie feels the old woman’s rancid, pot-laced breath against her face with every word.

“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”

Tantsy suddenly chokes, convulses, and tosses back her head as she lets out a half-strangled shriek that sends cats scattering as she tosses back her head. Her glasses fly off.

The face that whips back towards Amelie looks like a stranger’s. The eyes are huge, bulging, and bloodshot. The veins throb and look about to rupture as the woman screams, bloody sweat running down her lined face and spittle-flecked lips,

“Si vous appréciez votre vie, Amélie Savard—N’ALLEZ PAS DANS CETTE MAISON!”

(“If you value your life, Amelie Savard—DO NOT GO INTO THAT HOUSE!”)

Then, motion. Pained throbbing from her hand. Rough hands at her back. Her feet barely feel like they’re touching the ground as cats hiss and yowl—and the store’s front door rushes to meet Amelie’s face.

Amelie: Amelie watches what can only be one of two things. Some awful parlor trick, or an actual ghost screaming in her face.

She clenches her hand as she curses and hisses in pain. A tear rolls down her cheek as the crone manhandles her. The blood loss is already making her worried. What if she can’t work with her hand anymore? What if she loses it?

She gets the point. She got the point back after the comment about shit on the knife. She isn’t an idiot.
And Tantsy still punctuated it with this gratuitous attack, this bullshit cruelty. She struggles for a moment to find her voice.

“I just came… to ask questions! I didn’t disrespect you or spit in your face, and you did this! People—ow, fuck! People have been in and out of the LaLaurie House for years without dying! It was a bar and restaurant at points, for fuck’s sake! There has to be some safe way to just look inside for a few hours!”

GM: A thunderously slammed door is the only response Amelie receives as she’s all but hurled out of the shop.

CLOSED, reads the sign by the window.

Amelie: Amelie almost steps back towards the shop when she feels a cold prick at the base of her spine. Her hand hurts more and more, and the adrenaline from the fight is already wearing off.

She lets out a low hiss as she fishes her phone out of her pocket with her right hand, clamps her left hand in her elbow pit, and calls her aunt as she puts pressure on the hand. She squats a block away from the store and holds back tears while the phone rings and she bleeds onto the pavement.

GM: “Hello, Amelie? Is everything all right?” her aunt asks in a mildly surprised tone. This is the first time they’ve actually spoken over the phone instead of texting, at least in the States.

Amelie: Amelie can barely speak. Her teeth grit as she watches the dripping blood ruin her pant leg. “No. I-” she pauses to hiss in effort and takes a breath. Short sentences are all she can manage. “I was stabbed. I’m bleeding a lot. My hand.”

GM: There’s a pause, but it’s not for overly long before her aunt replies, “Press your hand with something to apply pressure and slow bleeding. We need to get you to an emergency room. If you need immediate treatment, you can call 911, but ambulance response times are shit in this city. How badly are you bleeding?”

Amelie: Amelie has cut herself more than once, but never worse than a belt sander snapping and cutting into her bicep. The mess makes it hard to tell. It’s a jagged wound, but not ugly enough to make her think she’s going to die.

“6/10. Won’t kill me. Rusty knife though. Jagged. Already putting pressure,” she wheezes, flexing her arm tighter to keep up that pressure. She manages to squeak out the address as well.

GM: “Good thinking. Keep that up,” her aunt says firmly. Amelie hears some indistinct noises in the background as Christina raises her voice. “Can you hail a Ryde and meet me at the Tulane Medical Center ER, or do you want me to pick you up? That second option may take longer.”

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head and lets out another little hiss. “Ryde uses—fuck… me. Personal cars. Might get turned down… for bleeding,” she stammers out, slowly standing up. “Should I risk it? Or get on… main road for you?”

GM: “Personal cars. That’s a good point. Okay, sit down and stay where you are. I will be there as soon as I can. All right?”

Amelie: Amelie slowly moves her feet, feeling more than a little woozy as she does. “I walked. I’m by… wait, it’s-” there’s a small pause as her aunt hears a defeated chuckle on the other end of the line.

“Cafe Amelie. I’m at Cafe Amelie.”

The young woman slumps against the wall and slides down it. She sits and bleeds over the sidewalk like the ending shot from a shitty film noir.

GM: “You’re at Cafe Amelie.” Her aunt’s voice finally breaks at those words, and sounds halfway between a sniffle and smile. “All… right. Keep up that level head.” Her next words tighten. “If you see any police, stand up and fiddle on your phone so you look at least somewhat affluent. I’m getting in my car now, so I have to hang up. I’ll see you soon. Okay?”

Amelie: Amelie nods, then remembers her aunt can’t hear that over the phone. “Yeah. Soon.”

She does as she’s asked and maintains the pressure on her hand while she sits and waits. She already doesn’t trust the police and hopes they avoid her.

GM: Cafe Amelie looks like a nice enough place to have lunch. Patrons eat and converse in an open-air, greenery-filled courtyard. The building itself resembles the shop from which Amelie was only just expelled, with a Spanish-style wrought-iron gallery overflowing with plants. A bubbling fountain sounds from just outside.

Few patrons can likely make out Amelie from behind the courtyard’s brick wall while she’s sitting. Her bloody appearances draws more than a few stares and remarks from others passersby, ranging from “the hell happened to you?” to “someone should call the cops.” In contrast to her native Quebec, random strangers appear amply willing to express their opinions aloud or strike up conversations on the street.

Amelie: Nosy cunts is about all the brainpower Amelie spares to think about the people who pass by. None of them actually stop to offer help, so fuck ’em.

She waves at the bystanders who linger with her good hand, cites “The Fences got me,” and then waves them off. She seals the ‘nothing to see here’ impression with a friendly smile.

GM: Amelie endures perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of waiting before she spots Christina among the passersby, dressed in a navy skirtsuit and blazer. Her aunt makes a beeline when she sees her, gets down to her knees, and strips off the blazer to wrap around Amelie’s injured arm. If her eyes widen at the sight, it’s only for a moment before her jaw hardens.

Amelie: Amelie pulls away and gives an almost awkwardly pained hiss as her aunt starts to strip off what has to be an expensive piece of clothing. “No no no, not the blazer,” she whines.

GM: Christina does not appear to be overly concerned for the blazer as she wraps one of the sleeves taut around Amelie’s still-bleeding hand as an impromptu bandage.

“How badly does it hurt?” she asks.

Amelie: Amelie feels a deep pang in her chest when her aunt ruins the blazer to get a bandage on her hand. “More than a hangnail, less than a stubbed toe. Starting to—nnfuck. Feelin’ pretty damn dizzy. Let my outfit soak it up, let’s get going.”

GM: Amelie’s aunt helps her up and shepherds her into the passenger seat of a silver-gray Subaru Legacy car. Cafe Amelie’s brick walls recede past in the window.

Amelie: Amelie stumbles up into the car with her aunt’s help and then just rests her. Her outfit is a mess. There’s flecks of red on her face and her covered hand is soaked in fresh and dried blood alike. But she’s alive.

GM: “It looks like the worst is over,” Christina remarks, sparing another glance for Amelie’s hand. “All we need to do now is get you checked into the ER. Good job staying calm and good thinking calling me.”

Amelie: “Hopefully my hand makes a full recovery. And thank you. I’ve been hurt a lot, it’s rote at this point.” There’s a small pause before she speaks again. “I’m sorry for interrupting your job.”

GM: “Don’t worry about the job. But we’ll take it as a good sign that you’re feeling clear-headed enough to be worried.” Her aunt stares back towards the road as streets roll past. “Now, how did you get stabbed?”

Amelie: Amelie can’t help but dread the answer. “I went to the cathedral to ask about ghosts, was refuted on their existence by the Catholic Church, and had a card for an occult shop slipped into my belongings. I went, told her about the LaLaurie House, she read my palm, and then stabbed my hand with a dagger screaming about it being a festering wound on the world and how I’ll die if I step foot into it.”

GM: Christina doesn’t stop to blink at the half-coherent explanation while she’s driving, but there’s at least one blink in the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry, Amelie?”

Amelie: “Yeah. She was… insane, and old. Which is why I didn’t call the cops. Also because of… another incident I had today.”

GM: “All right, if the staff at Tulane asks any questions, keep the story simple and tell them you were stabbed by a mentally ill person. Don’t talk about any of those… other details.”

Amelie: “That was the plan. Last thing I need is the mental health ward right now.” Amelie hisses a bit as she adjusts her seating.

GM: “You probably won’t be looking at the mental health ward. But hospitals in Louisiana are required to report gunshot wounds to the police, and a stab wound like this could also draw questions. So keep your explanation simple and plausible. Did this person also want money from you? Were you in a bad part of town?”

Amelie: “No, and maybe. I was just off Jackson Square, and she was reading palms. I thought I’d give it a try, like a dumb tourist, and she produced a knife and stabbed my hand. How’s that?”

GM: Her aunt frowns deeply, but then simply says, “All right, there are some sketchy people there. A mentally ill person offered to read your palm, got upset over something you said, and stabbed you. You managed to get away and call me. Can you remember that?”

Amelie: “Like a modern major general,” is all she can muster, eyes closed as she rests her head. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”

GM: “I’m sorrier that you were stabbed by a lunatic.”

Amelie: “Could have been worse. Could have been extorted by a police officer working with a pickpocket.” Amelie lifts her head, eyes not open, but brows raised. “Oh wait.”

GM: Her aunt’s frown deepens. “Did this cop also hurt you? Did you say anything to him?”

Amelie: “Threatened me a lot. Scared me a bit. I was nothing but respectful. He had my ID, and I managed to convince him I was poor and just got a scholarship to a private school. He took 100 bucks. Case closed.”

GM: Christina slowly takes that in before responding, “All right, he only took some money. That’s good. I should have talked to you about this earlier, but you shouldn’t ever speak to the police around here, not if you can avoid it. They’re thugs with badges. The whole department is completely corrupt.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I get that now… I should start carrying a self-defense weapon or something.”

GM: “You don’t ever want to attack the police, Amelie,” her aunt quickly replies. “If a cop talks to you, ask if you’re being detained or under arrest. If they say yes, tell them you want a lawyer. No matter what they say to you, be a broken record and don’t respond with anything except those five words. ‘I want a lawyer.’ Got that?”

Amelie: Amelie actually lets out a little chuckle. “No, no, I don’t mean—I’m not going to stab a cop. I mean so I can defend myself better without calling them.” The jostle makes her grimace a little, but her expression settles back after a moment. “I want a lawyer.”

GM: “That’s right,” Christina answers approvingly, but the look passes as quickly as the onrushing traffic. “And you’re right that we can’t let this happen again.” Her hands clench around the wheel. “You said you met that lunatic from ‘a card?’”

The old Spanish- and French-style buildings with those floral-lined galleries that are so distinctive to New Orleans have receded by now. Brutal glass and steel monoliths, the same unfirmly gray skyscrapers one can find in any city, jut above the traffic in their place. Tulane Medical Center is an interconnected series of brown-bricked, box-like buildings with a skywalk that passes just over the street. The hospital’s name is printed on its side in blocky white letters.

Amelie: Amelie explains the situation as they drive. The card, its written message, the store, the stabbing. Everything but the old woman’s sudden French and that wailing scream from beyond the grave. She grimaces slightly as they roll up to the hospital and mentally readies herself for a six-hour wait.

GM: Christina listens intently and tells Amelie to text her if she finds herself in a suspicious situation like that again—which finding cards with strange messages on her person certainly falls under. The people behind it could have wanted to rob her, rape her, murder her, or who knows what.

“New Orleans is not a safe city,” her aunt declares emphatically. “If you’re ever unsure about a person or situation, text me. Or call me. If you want to snort cocaine, hire a gigolo, get an abortion, or whatever else, I won’t stop or judge you. I will only tell you how safe I believe it is. Beyond that, how much you want me involved in your life is your choice. I would much rather you feel able to come to me for help than feel it necessary to hide things.”

Christina’s gaze seems to notably linger on Amelie at the story’s ‘abbreviated’ ending, but her aunt says nothing further as she parks their car in a disabled persons spot.

Amelie: Amelie feels more than a little guilty at that statement. ‘Necessary to hide things.’ She makes a face like she’s got a sudden lurch in her stomach and shakes her head, unable to keep up the lie.

“You’re going to think I’m insane,” she starts. “When she had me up against that wall, and the knife popped out…? I don’t know what kind of trick she used. Her eyes bugged out and went white, and she screamed in my face in French, not to go into that house. It scared me. Especially after being hurt, and all the ghost talk beforehand.”

GM: “That’s probably exactly what she was trying to do,” Christina remarks as she helps Amelie out and shuts the car door. Her heels click against the pavement as she takes Amelie’s bleeding arm in hers and applies further pressure as they briskly stride towards the sliding ER doors.

“There are a lot of psychics, fortune-tellers, and what have you around the Quarter who are very good at showmanship. There are a lot of tourists, too, who come to New Orleans expecting to see strange things—and Orleanians who believe in strange things. They all get fleeced for everything they’re worth.”

Amelie: Amelie feels silly and nods along with her aunt as she tries to keep her legs moving forward. Her body feels sluggish, but she’s glad she can at least keep step.

“I didn’t want you to think I was crazy or traumatized or something stupid, or that I bought it hook line and sinker. I’m not a good liar and I shouldn’t have tried.”

GM: Christina pulls Amelie aside to avoid several EMTs wheeling in a comatose, blood-spattered dark-skinned man on a stretcher and respirator.

“…how do you starve a black guy? Put their food stamp under their work boots,” one of the black-uniformed personnel quips.

“That’s not nice,” his homely-looking partner says back.

“Don’t you still live with your mom, Abby?”

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh through her nose as she glances down at the man being wheeled in. It seems like black people are the race that gets pressed underfoot here instead of Native Americans.

She groans a bit and stands up straighter as the pressure starts to make her hand sore.

“I wasn’t going to give that crazy bitch any money, anyway. I was going to get a few words for the paper and leave.”

GM: “I don’t think you would have given her money, and I don’t think you were crazy. I think someone took advantage of what you were hoping to see, then badly scared you after she stabbed your hand,” Christina replies as she helps Amelie past the threshold of the sliding ER doors. The inside waiting room is jam-packed with people in various states of discomfort but almost universal discontent. Some looked pained. Some look bored. More than a few appear to suffer from a peculiarly malaisful combination of both.

An overworked-looking triage nurse with bags under her eyes asks the pair the reason for their visit and quizzes Amelie about her medical history and any over-the-counter or prescription medications she is currently taking, along with any allergies she might have. The nurse then measures Amelie’s temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t exactly like the tests. She grits her teeth and lets out some less-than-ladylike noises and mutterings about her hand. Nurses are worth her holding her tongue around, though, and every second word is a “sorry” or “thank you” until she’s told to go sit down and wait.

GM: The nurse barely seems to register Amelie’s thanks or apologies. Her heavy eyes have already moved past the pair as she concludes, “Not urgent. Go take a seat in the waiting-”

“She’s an artist with a probable tendon injury,” Christina interrupts sharply. “I am an attorney and prepared to file suit against Tulane Medical Center if your malpractice costs her-”

“Urgent but not life-threatening,” the nurse interrupts back with a look that’s half-glare, half-placation, and wholly resentful. Her brow then furrows at Amelie. “Where did you get this?”

Amelie: Her aunt’s reaction is something of a surprise, but the nurse’s question makes Amelie look back towards her. “Off Jackson Square. I got my… my palm read by some lady. I was being a stupid tourist. She was crazy. She grabbed my hand and stabbed it with an old weird knife.”

The realization starts to gnaw at her again after her aunt’s words. She can feel a dull panic slowly building in her chest as she wonders if she’ll be able to use both hands at the forge again. Her voice falters as she awkwardly presses the wound and asks, “Is my hand going to be normal after this..?”

GM: “Other patients are waiting,” the nurse replies tersely while making a shooing motion.

Amelie: Amelie carefully pulls her aunt’s blazer off her hand and shows the nurse the open wound. She’s starting to sound a bit scared. “Ma’am, the blade was rusty and filthy… please, can you just take a quick look and tell me if you can save it?”

GM: “Get out before I call security,” the nurse replies in an even terser voice.

Amelie: Amelie frowns and nods, slowly standing up and re-wrapping, turning to follow her aunt to the waiting room.

GM: Christina directs an exceedingly stony look at the nurse, but does not press the matter any further as she leads Amelie back into the waiting room.

“You may not have a serious tendon injury. I only said that to get you faster care,” she explains once they’re out of earshot.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t quite buy it. She looks for a place to sit down and nurse her hand on her lap. “A rusty blade is more dangerous than a clean one in the long term. At this point, I’m just holding my breath.”

The young woman takes a deep breath to steady herself despite her doomsaying. “If I lose the ability to use this hand properly… I’ll find a way around it for my work. It’ll be okay.”

GM: “Let’s worry for now about getting that hand treated properly,” her aunt replies as she leads Amelie up to the registration desk. The glasses-wearing woman on the other side barely glances up from her computer screen as she robotically asks for Amelie’s name, gender, date of birth, mailing address, name of primary care doctor, the medical reason for her visit, and how she got her stab wound. They get through ‘date of birth’ before Christina interrupts the receptionist to tell Amelie, “You go find somewhere to sit down. I’ll take care of the rest of this.”

Amelie: Amelie is surprised again by her aunt’s sudden cut-in. She nods thankfully, though, as she cradles her arm and looks around for a chair to slump down in. The blood loss has officially given her a headache. She watches her aunt through squinted lids in case she’s motioned back up.

GM: The ER is absolutely packed. Finding an open seat takes Amelie some time, and takes her past a melange of waiting patients. A young woman groans and massages a deeply reddened ankle while a closely-aged man next to her mouths assurances. A dreadlocked man with an incredibly ripe stench groans loudly about how much pain he’s in. Someone nearby snaps that he isn’t sick and is wasting everyone’s time. In another seat, a crying middle-aged woman rocks back and forth with a droopy-eyed child she hugs to her breast. Even the spaces between seats are occupied. Amelie observes a bearded old man walking up and down the aisle with a bible and rosary, steadily chanting, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“How fucking long are you gonna go on with that?!” screeches a black-eyed woman from a nearby chair.

The old man only continues to walk down the aisle and chant, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”

“Mom, I’m really thirsty…” groans another voice.

“I’m sorry, honey, but you heard them say to limit your fluid intake until the doctors get a look.”

Amelie: Amelie eventually just stands in place and leaves the seats to more sickly and injured people as she watches the chaos unfold. She feels bad how her aunt strong-armed the hospital. She wishes she could fix the child and the dreadlocked man in the same way she could weld bad pieces of steel back together.

One of the last voices makes her ear prick up, though. She’s heard this girl at McGehee. She decides to approach after a moment of consideration perhaps addled by blood loss, and offers the teenager a small gimped wave with her good hand.

“Excuse me. You’re Hannah, right?”

GM: The girl in question looks a few years younger than Amelie, like most students at McGehee do. She has a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length brown hair that’s streaked through with blonde towards the ends. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved gray tee and pair of blue jeans instead of the standard McGehee uniform.

Her eyes are half-lidded and look exhausted as she leans against the shoulder of a 40- or 50-something woman with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and a narrower face and nose. The older woman is dressed in a low-necked black shirt, tan slacks, and looks in a great deal less discomfort. Physically, at least.

She frowns at Amelie’s address. “I’m sorry, do we know you from somewhere?”

Amelie: Amelie gives Hannah a sorry smile before looking towards the mother addressing her. “Yes, sorry. I’m Amelie Savard, a senior at our school. We haven’t really met before, but I have Mrs. Flores’ ballroom dance class with Hannah.”

GM: “Ah. I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time.” The woman shakes her head as if to clear it, then extends a hand. “Monica Burroughs. You probably guessed I’m Hannah’s mom.”

Amelie: Amelie respectfully declines the handshake as she holds up her good hand to show how it’s also coated in blood.

“It’s very nice to meet you, I’m sorry about the hand,” she says before looking back towards Hannah. Her classmate is in a really really bad way it seems. Maybe something with her stomach, from what she said earlier?

GM: “Oh, don’t be. It’s-”

Monica is interrupted, though, as Hannah gives Amelie a bleary look. “You’re the… girl who Mrs. Flores had stay after class.”

Amelie: “Yeah, that’s me. She wanted me to practice following, since I lead all class.” Amelie keeps her voice a bit softer as she speaks to Hannah. She tries to keep her head in one piece if she has a headache too. “You look so sick. I hope it’s not too painful.”

GM: Hannah gives Amelie another half-focused look.

“It’s dehydration,” her mom says. “Killer in this weather.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and remembers her aunt’s talks about how hot and humid the city’s subtropical climate is. The humidity has yet to slow her down, but the heat and sun definitely have. She gives Hannah a worried look all the same.

“Absolutely. I’m not even from the States,” she admits, “so I’ve had the whole scary talk about dehydration.”

GM: “Say, do you want my seat? You’re not about to bleed out, are you?” Monica asks.

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head at the offer. “You stay, ma’am, I’m just fine standing. Hannah looks like she could use her mom anyway.”

She shifts on a leg, turns, and looks to see how her aunt is doing at the reception area. She hopes she doesn’t have a book of city bylaws open in front of the poor desk lady.

GM: Amelie can make out her aunt offering what looks like an insurance card. The desk lady looks far from poor, however, as Christina covertly slides over a number of green bills.

“All right, if you’re sure,” Monica answers. “You looking for someone?” she asks as she sees Amelie look towards the desk.

Hannah gives a soft moan and shifts against her mom’s shoulder.

Amelie: Amelie frowns slightly. It looks as if she’s about to get called on, but she’s not sure how fair that is to the other people in the waiting room.

“Just looking to see how my aunt is. I should leave you be, though. Hannah looks like she’d appreciate a bit of quiet.”

GM: Monica glances at her daughter. “Yes, thanks. One thing, I’m sorry if this seems forward of me. But are you…?” she makes a motion towards Amelie’s hair.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t’ skip a beat. “Gay?”

GM: “Yes, gay,” the teenager’s mother nods.

Hannah’s eyes crack back open as she gives a muffled yell of, “Mom!”

Amelie: Amelie manages a weak chuckle at Hannah’s reaction. “Everyone assumes, I’m not offended. I cut my hair this short because I grew up around metalworking. Eventually you get tired of your hair catching on fire,” she says without exactly answering the question.

GM: “Oh, really? That does make a lot of sense,” Monica says. “I’m sorry to put you on the spot like that, it was just after this recent fuss over a queer alliance club at McGehee, and…”

“I’m in the ER and you’re still embarrassing me?” Hannah croaks.

Amelie: Amelie smiles and looks at Hannah. She tries to put on a calm and understanding face. “Hannah, you were the one who tried to start it, right?”

GM: Hannah gives an unfocused frown that seems equally split between Amelie, her mother, and the universe at large. “No, that was Leslie…”

“She’s a friend of Hannah’s,” her mom fills in. “I just thought you might have been a friend of hers, given… well, the hair.”

Hannah groans. “Mom, it’s just… a haircut…”

Amelie: “If it wasn’t the haircut, it would be the size of my arms, or all my scars, or my height, or just my attitude. I keep my actual preferences quiet, but I’m getting used to the assumption. People here are more vocal than I’m used to.”

GM: “Are you from France? They’re definitely a lot more reserved in Europe,” Monica agrees. “You know, there are some other girls from France going to McGehee,” she remarks thoughtfully. “I don’t know if you’ve met? You’re new, I know that, practically all the families with kids at the school know each other. They’re the Devillers, anyway, and a very nice family. Which is a good thing, since you would not believe how many of them there are. How many girls do they have, Hannah, eight?”

“‘I don’t believe in birth control’ many,” Hannah mumbles.

Her mom laughs.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a snicker at Hannah’s comment. It hurts more than a little, but she steadies herself with a few breaths. “Oooh, my. No, ma’am, I’m from Canada. Quebec, to be specific. But I do know the Devillers, yes. I’m partnered with one for my New Orleans history class, actually!”

GM: “Quebec, how silly of me. And oh really? Hannah’s taking that for fifth period with Ms. Perry. She’s very friendly and does a good job keeping the class interesting, from what Hannah tells me. They’re doing this project right now for ghost stories—she says there was a vote between that and historic buildings-”

“Which as many people vote for as Jill Stein,” Hannah mumbles.

“-yes, it sounds like that option wins every time, Ms. Perry could maybe make them more competitive,” Monica remarks.

Amelie: Amelie slowly nods and sighs as she looks down at her hand. “I was out doing research for that project today, actually. That’s what I was doing when this happened. New Orleans is a scary place when you aren’t careful.”

GM: “Oh, you poor thing, I’m so sorry to hear that! Hopefully it doesn’t turn you off to the city, people here can be very welcoming. You just have to know what parts of town to avoid. It’s tricky because the bad areas run right up next to the safe ones.”

Amelie: “It’s not enough to turn me off to the city. It was me being a dumb tourist is all. I’ll be more careful from now on. I still have research to do, after all.”

GM: “That’s good to hear. So what’s it you’re doing for your project? There’s really so many ghosts to pick from…”

Hannah gives another moan. Monica pulls out her phone at glances at the screen. “Okay, good news, it’s been five minutes. Now remember, just a little sip…” she says as she extends a water bottle toward her daughter.

Hannah weakly grasps at it and takes a glug before her mom gently but firmly pulls it back away. She groans again, “I’m thirsty…”

“I know, Hannah, but you remember what the last times were like?” Her brow furrows. “You can’t keep doi…”

Hannah cuts her off with a particularly loud sigh, re-closes her eyes, and leans back her head.

“Five minutes, honey, I’ve got the timer on,” Monica says. She taps the phone several times and tucks it back away. “Until then or whenever the doctor sees us…”

“Yeah, by the time Strong reforms the queer club so she can ask Amelie out…” Hannah croaks.

Monica gives Amelie a ‘you know how it is’ smile. “I’m sorry about that. Blame the heat.”

Amelie: Amelie is about to answer Hannah’s mom’s question before she gets another sip of liquid to help pull her body back from the state it’s in. The exchange afterwards, including the jab, makes Amelie smile. Hannah is a little catty. It makes talking with her kinda fun.

“Don’t be sorry, I’d be saying worse things in her state,” she assures her classmate’s mother.

She looks back towards the front desk again to see where her aunt is.

GM: She sees Christina waiting near the reception desk, arms folded and watching her. Other patients are talking to the receptionist. When Amelie makes eye contact, her aunt nods towards a hallway leading out of the waiting room.

Amelie: Amelie nods and turns back. “Excuse me, my aunt is calling me. It was nice to meet you both. I hope I see you in school Monday, Hannah. I’m sorry you’re so sick.” She excuses herself again with a small wave of her good hand and retreats to her aunt’s side.

GM: “Bye…” Hannah grogs.

“It was nice meeting you, Amelie. Get better soon,” her mom adds.

Christina, meanwhile, flags down a nurse and says something about it being “their turn.” The nurse leads them out of the waiting room.

“We’ll still have to wait a little for a doctor, but you’ll at least get to lie down somewhere quiet,” her aunt remarks as they proceed down a hallway. The waiting room’s noise fades to a low din.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything as she lets her aunt lead her down the hall. She doesn’t want to tip off the nurse as to any improvement in her condition. The promise of a quiet room sounds like a dream come true, however, as does finally seeing a doctor.

GM: The nurse leads the pair into an exam room with a bed to lie down on and an adjacent chair. An oxygen tank, tubing, and other medical equipment sit nearby. The nurse attaches a device that resembles a small smartphone to a band around Amelie’s wrist, then fixes it to a cord that connects it to some of the machines.

“A doctor will be with you soon,” the nurse states, then exits through the door. Amelie and her aunt are left alone in the silent room.

Amelie: Amelie lies on the table and shuts her eyes as soon as the door closes, then finally exhales and lets herself relax.

“You really didn’t need to do that, Auntie. With the reception lady?”

GM: “I think I did,” her aunt replies. “You could have been waiting out there for hours.”

Amelie: “Isn’t that normal? I’ve been in a lot of hospital waiting rooms.”

GM: “Yes, it is normal,” Christina answers.

Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh of defeat. “Well, thank you. That’s—I’m sorry it cost you so much, what happened today.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” her aunt replies as she sits down on the chair. “And I’m not. I think that it’s been time and money well-spent.” She then adds more softly, “You can let people do things for you, Amelie. It’s not a tap that you have to worry about running dry.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say a word. It takes a few moments to gather enough courage that she can swallow the frog in her throat.

“I don’t think I’m very good at that, yet.”

GM: “Maybe not, but practice makes perfect.”

Amelie: Amelie lightly shifts and turns to face slightly away from her aunt so she can’t see the expression on her face. Not even her mother ever treated her like this.

“At least this will be good material for the paper,” she says, trying to change the subject.

GM: “I’m sure it will. Perhaps the teacher will give you extra credit for injury ‘in the line of duty,’” her aunt replies, seeming to go along with it.

Amelie: “I’ll get the purple heart of AP Local History.” It takes a few moments, but Amelie finds she can steel herself again and turns onto her back. “You know… Oscar was right. New Orleans is turning out to be a lot to love.”

GM: “Did he say that? I suppose he’s right,” her aunt considers. “Lord knows there are a thousand and one things wrong with the city, but I’m still living here.”

Amelie: “Maybe it’s just the atmosphere I guess. Or Stockholm’s.”

GM: “For someone who loves history as much as you, there should be a lot of places and activities to appreciate. Most of them are pretty safe. Even NOPD isn’t about to let people get their hands stabbed by lunatics around famous landmarks.”

Amelie: “I hope! There’s a dueling tree I want to visit, lots of people have been stabbed there I hear. Though I don’t think I trust that around landmarks. That cop grabbed me right outside the cathedral in Jackson Square.”

GM: Christina’s eyebrows raise. “A cop manhandled you in front of all those people? That could certainly get him in trouble with his boss when he winds up on MeVid.”

Amelie: “He pulled me off to the side to his little golf cart. Tried to be smooth, talking about $50 gift cards for a steak house Mr. Moreno gives him when he brings in crooks. I think I’m the one who’s going to be on MeVid fending off that pickpocket, unfortunately.”

GM: Her aunt frowns. “There was a pickpocket too? Did he make off with anything of yours?”

Amelie: “They were working together, said he’d take me in for assault on him if I didn’t give him the price of taking in two criminals for his steakhouse money. The weasel didn’t get anything. Came back to give him the money, pickpocket was gone out the back of his golf cart.”

GM: “So you drove off the pickpocket and the cop threatened to bring you in for assault. I’m glad he wasn’t able to take anything, or at least anything else,” her aunt frowns. “But that sounds like a pretty strange confidence racket. Struggling over purses is a flimsy assault charge even for NOPD.”

Amelie: “I want a lawyer,” she repeats.

GM: “Very good,” Christina states.

Amelie: Amelie slowly sits up, looks at her wrapped-up hand and lets out a shaky breath. “It’s starting to settle into one of those really dull pains that make you want to flex the muscle.”

GM: “I’m not a doctor or even particularly medically knowledgeable, but my first instinct is to say you shouldn’t risk tearing anything,” her aunt warns. “We’ve got the exam room, so hopefully it won’t be long until the doctor shows.”

Amelie: “Yeah, I’m not risking it. Just starting to hurt more again.” The pain is different enough that Amelie can rest back on the bed, at least. “I decided to take confession while I was at that cathedral as well. The priest suggested I write my father a letter.”

GM: “What do you think of doing that?”

Amelie: “I think it won’t make a difference to him. But that I should do it anyway.”

GM: “Then I will support you in that decision. Maybe you’ll find it cathartic, even if he doesn’t.”

Amelie: “I hope so,” is all she musters. She slowly rests her head back. “A not-so-smart part of me is telling me to go back to that shop someday. Just with less chance of stabbing. Some of those books looked and smelled ancient.”

GM: “Those smarter parts of you are right. I don’t think that would be an at all safe decision,” her aunt declares emphatically. “There are other shops with just as ancient books if you were to go looking, I’m sure.”

Amelie: “Not-so-smart, like I said. I’m sure once I get my business up and running I can get interns to go into that shop and get what I want,” she jokes. There’s a small grin on her face.

GM: “Even better. Take it from another business owner: opening one involves enough hurdles that you’ll probably forget all about those books by the time it’s off the ground.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. “You sound like you built something from nothing, too. Maybe we should sit down one day when I get my business started and talk about it.”

GM: “We could also talk about how you want to start building yours, if you’d like,” her aunt says. “There will be a lot of groundwork, and especially if you want yours up and running by next year-”

Christina is interrupted, however, as the exam room’s door opens. A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope steps through. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe in his 30s. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. A shadow-like smile, perhaps made so from his stubble, slowly spreads across his face as his eyes roam over the supine Amelie.

Doctor.jpg “Good afternoon, ladies. Hopefully you haven’t been waiting too long.”

Amelie: Amelie starts just a little as the door opens. She slowly starts to pull the wrappings off her hand as she sits up and groans a bit as she reveals her hand. “You’re here, that’s what matters.”

GM: “Getting you better is what matters. Hopefully that’ll follow my being here,” the doctor says brightly as he approaches Amelie. “Now, shhh, you just lay back down. You must be pretty tired. Let’s take a look at that hand…”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at how ‘chipper’ the doctor is. She can’t remember the last time someone shushed her like that. But she still turns, sits on the exam bed, and holds out her hand. She rests it on her other hand and keeps the blazer underneath in case it spurts again.

“I’m pretty sure you have… read a chart, or something, but it was a rusty knife. A big one. I tried to keep it in, but it was knocked free.”

GM: “That’s the thing about getting hurt: it never happens the way we’d like,” the doctor smiles.

Meanwhile, a nurse appears. Amelie is subjected to a battery of tests and treatments. The doctor fills a menacingly large hypodermic needle and holds it close to her wound. He doesn’t inject her, but instead depresses a flow of saline solution over the raw and bloody area. It hurts. Debris, sweat, and more blood flushes out and drains into a basin the nurse puts under Amelie’s hand, which she subsequently pats dry with sterile gauze sponges. That hurts too. A lot.

Amelie: If anyone can take pain, it’s Amelie. She bites her lip and nearly breaks the skin on her thigh with her good hand as the nurse sees to her bad one. She trembles when it’s padded off, but stops the nurse for just one moment to take a cellphone picture before it’s wrapped up, then sets her phone on the exam bed behind her. She’s had worse pain in worse places, she tells herself, and tries to make the nurse’s life as easy as possible after the short interruption.

GM: Amelie’s hand is given an x-ray and bandaged up before the doctor gives his prognosis. “All right, Amelie, we have mostly good news for you. There was no damage to your tendons or neurovascular bundles, so you won’t need surgery. But that knife must have been filthy, from how little time you say it was in there, and your wound was infected. We’re going to put you on an oral regimen of cephalexin. If that doesn’t clear up your cellulitis, we’ll try putting you on IV antibiotics.”

He smiles at her again. “Still, that’s good news. You were pretty lucky. Nerve and tendon damage is very common with stab wounds to hands. Surgery can take months to recover from even when successful.”

“So all she has to do is take some pills for a while?” Christina clarifies, her arms having been crossed and lips pressed throughout the procedure.

“And change her bandages, of course,” the doctor adds.

“How are we supposed to tell if she needs to go on IV antibiotics? Or more to the point, once we can tell, would the infection have caused damage preventable by initial IV treatment?”

The doctor does his best to answer Christina’s questions and eventually satisfies her that IV antibiotics are not presently necessary. The two also go down a rather morbid tangent (at Christina’s insistence) where the doctor admits that, yes, if Amelie doesn’t take her cephalexin or follow her wound care instructions, the infection could develop and make it necessary to amputate her hand. Her aunt’s face looks grave at that information. She thoroughly grills the doctor about Amelie’s post-care instructions and types them into her phone as he talks. She also asks for his name and a phone number to contact in case she or Amelie have further questions. The doctor supplies both (his name is Jared Brown) and also gives Amelie a shot of tetanus vaccine when the nurse isn’t able to locate her immunization records. “You’ve probably been immunized already, but just to be sure,” he mentions before depressing the needle into her arm. The doctor applies a band-aid over the sore spot, then doles out two pills and offers Amelie a tall glass of water while the nurse escorts Christina away to “deal with some more insurance business, since we had an x-ray done.”

Amelie: Amelie is glad to have her care done and her bandages made up. Being left alone with this doctor is another matter. Left alone with a man. There’s something about his eyes when he offers her the water and tablets. They make her aunt’s words ring in her head.

“Just give me a moment,” she nods. “I’m horrible with pills. Does the hospital have a cafeteria? Antibiotics on an empty stomach make me vomit.”

GM: “It does, but between you and me, I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to eat,” Dr. Brown smiles. “There’s an in-hospital O’Tolley’s too, but I’m definitely not allowed to recommend that!” he laughs.

“Tell you what, Amelie, you can take these along with something out of your fridge, just so long as you have your aunt take you home straight away. Deal?”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. Hospital food isn’t supposed to taste good, but the hospitals she’s been to had decent baked goods at least.

“Sure. I’m sure we’ll fill the prescription and go straight home afterwards,” she says.

She reaches back to grab her phone and quickly texts her aunt. He still stuck her with a needle.

“Will my hand scar, Dr. Brown?” she asks. “I’ve got enough as it is.”

GM: “It probably will, I’m sorry to say. But ‘count’ your blessings. Your fingers are still going to work fine, after all!” the doctor smiles.

Amelie: Amelie nods. She’s not too broken up about it. “I have worse. Would you mind if I had a moment of privacy? I need to fix myself and make a quick phone call.”

GM: “You mean share that picture of your hand over Facebook?” Dr. Brown chuckles. “But all right, Amelie. Give a shout when you’re done.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to the doctor and breathes a short sigh of relief once he’s gone. She takes a picture of the clock and leaves a note in her phone about the bad feeling the doctor gives her. She crosses her legs to take off her blood-soaked left sock, puts it on the exam table’s paper, and fans her foot off. She waits patiently for her aunt and doesn’t make any movements that could raise her heart rate.

GM: A response pings back from her aunt after a moment.

Amelie strains and strains to make out any noises from Dr. Brown on the other side of the door. It feels like there’s so much ambient noise in the hospital, so many vibrations past the ceiling and walls, that it’s impossible to be sure. Amelie can only lie in place on the exam table. It is very easy to feel alone. It is even easier to feel hurt and vulnerable.

The door suddenly opens. Christina’s gaze lingers on Amelie, then fixes on Dr. Brown, who is also standing just outside. He smiles when he sees her.

Amelie: Amelie bolts upright when the door opens, but gives a deep sigh of relief when she sees who it is. It’s arrested when she sees the doctor. She slowly gets up, slips her foot into her sneaker, and stuffs the bloody sock into her pocket.

GM: Amelie’s aunt and Dr. Brown go over her after-care instructions one more time as he writes the prescription for her medication. Christina also double-checks his phone number, and Dr. Brown adds that Amelie should feel free to call him anytime if she has any symptoms she’d like to discuss.

“And that’s that. Hopefully you won’t be seeing me again too soon,” the doctor smiles at Amelie, “but you never can know.”

Amelie: “Thank you, Doctor,” is all Amelie manages as she takes her aunt’s hand and hopes the gesture convinces the woman they can and should leave.

GM: Christina’s hand feels taut in Amelie’s as she crisply thanks Dr. Brown and takes their leave from the hospital. Hannah and her mother are still sitting in the same waiting room spot where Amelie left them. The former’s eyes are closed.

A light drizzle is falling when the pair exit the hospital’s sliding doors. Aunt and niece observe that the former’s car, parked in the disabled persons space, has a damp-looking ticket on its windshield. Amelie’s attentive eyes even note the amount is for $275 before Christina pulls it off.

Amelie: Amelie breathes a palpable sigh of relief when they finally step through the hospital doors. It feels good to be out in the open, rain or no rain, and away from the whiff she caught off that doctor. The parking ticket is just more spit in the face, but she files the price away in the back of her head and makes no mention of it. She’ll pay her aunt back for today.

GM: “Did he do anything to you at all past giving a bad vibe?” her aunt asks as they get in the car. She stops first to get the door for Amelie.

Amelie: “He handed me two pills,” Amelie answers after sliding into the car and thanking the older woman for helping her. “They’re in my pocket. I got such a bad vibe off him, I didn’t believe they were antibiotics. That little chill was enough to make me worried after today. I’m sorry for stressing you out.”

GM: Her aunt frowns, then says, “All right, you can throw those out while I go back to pick up your prescription. I’d have needed to do that soon anyways. You stay here in the car and rest.”

Christina closes and locks the door, then heads back to the hospital. Amelie is free to listen to the radio, play on her phone, or simply close her eyes and rest while she listens to the lightly plunking rain. The car’s windows are rolled all the way up, and the air-conditioned interior is blissfully cool against the hot and humid air.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t close her eyes, but she momentarily opens the door to toss the pills under the car’s tires, where they’ll be crushed. She then closes the door, locks it back up, and stares straight ahead in a daze until they open again.

GM: Her aunt eventually returns with a small white paper bag in hand. Rain lightly patters against its surface and leaves dark spots. The Dixie sun still seems fat and swollen past the now-overcast sky, but it’s a hazy thing clearly no longer at its zenith. Her aunt starts the car and pulls them out of the hospital parking lot.

“Also, you remember what I said about letting people do things for you?” Christina brings up. “The next time you want to say ‘sorry’ to someone, try a ‘thanks’ instead. You’ll both probably feel better.”

Amelie: Amelie blinks back into the real world and smiles at the sight of her aunt. Her advice is good advice. It’s something she should adopt from this culture and throw away from an older one.

She remembers the priest’s words that children are a gift. She’s never felt like that was true in her case.

She closes her eyes, rests her head back, and can’t hide the small tremble in her voice when she croaks out a soft but sincere,

“Thank you, Auntie.”

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Story One, Amelie V

“Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t.”
Anonymous note

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: Amelie’s first week of classes goes by.

Mr. Thurston’s class is enjoyable enough, if one likes finance and listening to his stories about the city’s families and banking “in the old days”. The retired investment banker has a fairly laid-back attitude to class and doesn’t assign homework, quizes, or projects. He mostly just lectures and says there’ll be one exam every month throughout the semester. He says that’s “closer to how the real world works,” though he offers extra credit to students who read any of the recommended books off his syllabus and write 10-page reports on them. He also offers extra credit to any student who’ll grade his exams for him, as he evidently doesn’t assign enough work in his classes to justify a TA.

To the surprise of few, Sarah Whitney receives this position, although a black-haired girl he addresses as “Miss St. John” seems like she also wanted it. Amelie gets the impression that Mr. Thurston has no interest whatsoever in spending any of his own time on the class outside of class. Amelie hears he doesn’t even have Sarah read the book reports, just check to see if they’ve been plagiarized (and are actually about the chosen book).

At the same time, the old man has “about forty years” of experience in the financial sector and genuinely seems to enjoy imparting that knowledge to the daughters of his former banking clients. He also has a seemingly photographic memory for the names and family histories of many of his students. He often meanders off-topic from his lectures to relate stories about students’ families in his lazy Southern drawl, and some of the time they’re even relevant to the lectures’ subject matter. All told, his class is a peculiarly personalized blend of zeal and sloth.

“Just like college at the Ivy Leagues,” Mr. Thurston even briefly quips.

Amelie: Amelie tackles her schoolwork intensely: she only has a year of advanced schooling like this before she graduates. It’s a sobering thought and reminds her that being at the very top here is important to her future.

Finance is probably her least favorite class, thanks to Mr. Thurston’s constant tangents, but she uses the chance to memorize names from the old boys’ clubs he seems to be part of. His stories also provide some context into how the finance game’s players operate, and maybe even give her an in with those people. If she hears a name in this classroom there’s always a chance she can ask the teacher for introductions.

GM: Mr. French’s history class is more straightforward in its content matter, and perhaps more professional in how it’s structured. Mr. French treats it like the college course it is: there’s some amount of homework and assigned readings, as well as exams, but it’s mostly lectures geared towards writing a term paper. He seems like a hard grader, and most of the students seem like hard workers. Golf doesn’t come up beyond his initial introduction. Amelie’s own passion for the subject matter likely makes the prolonged lectures more enjoyable for her than they are to the other girls.

Amelie: History class is Amelie’s bread and butter. She sits with a straight back and laps up everything in every lesson, keeping detailed bullet point notes. She fails to keep a small smile off her face as they go over wars, changes in maps, political and religious shifts, and more. This period of history is fascinating and exhilarating for her, and she’s already working on drafts for her paper on the Hundred Years’ War in her spare time. Her initial concern about a male teacher in the girls’ school seems less valid every day, and downright silly by the end of the week. They clearly picked the right man for the job. She frequently raises her hand to asks questions and sometimes stays after class to clear up certain dates and faction names.

GM: Mr. French clearly expects all of his students to be raising their hands and asking questions about the material, and appears to take notice of Amelie simply for doing so more regularly than her peers (which she can hope will earn her a good participation grade).

In contrast, students in Ms. Perry’s third period seem to have a lot more fun. The teacher is younger and more energetic than Mr. French, and tries to give the girls more hands-on roles in the class through small-group discussions and presentations. She still gives lots of lectures herself, but punctuates them with jokes, wry commentary, and frequent pictures on the room’s smartboard (including the occasional cartoon and popular meme). She seems to hold strong opinions on a number of historic figures, especially John Law, who she repeatedly calls a “ne’er-do-well-scoundrel,” “sweet-talking hustler,” and other such variations, usually with a smirk. When one of the students brings up the topic, she laughs and admits she has a soft spot for “bad boy” types.

Amelie: Amelie does her best to keep her hand in the air during Mr. French’s class. She sometimes feels like he doesn’t go into certain topics on purpose, just to keep his students asking questions.

Ms. Perry’s class is more Amelie’s milk and honey, however, and she sits there with a big dumb grin on her face throughout the teacher’s lectures. She can’t help but chuckle at Ms. Perry’s half-hearted admonishments towards John Law. There’s plenty of ‘bad boys’ in New Orleans’ history. Jean Lafitte is a big name that springs to mind: French pirate, spy, smuggler, and war hero. Amelie suspects that more than a little class time will be spent learning about this man.

The figure she looks forward to hearing about most of all, though, is Jose ‘Pepe’ Llulla. The famed duelist was only seven or eight when Laffite died, but one of his best-known business ventures was ironically the purchase of Grande Terre Island in Barataria Bay: the former island base of Jean Laffite himself. Amelie enjoys sharing tidbits like this during the more hands-on portions of the class and discussing them with her teacher and classmates. It’s a dream class.

GM: Ms. Perry seems to appreciate Amelie’s knowledge and enthusiasm for history, and the Canadian transplant soon finds herself being regularly asked, “Ms. Savard, you have anything else you want to add for us?” during lectures. Ms. Perry laughs when she brings up Jean Lafitte and admits that her “crush” on the notorious pirate turned folk hero is well-known among her students. They’ll spend plenty of class time on him and his lesser-known brother Pierre in due order.

Amelie: Amelie’s great passion for history is finally stoked! And in a school, by teachers, of all people. The irony of her surprise and delight isn’t lost on her. Amelie always seems to have at least a small tidbit to add whenever Ms. Perry calls on her: the city’s history of the city has a lot of little offshoots and interesting facts, enough that she even researches more outside of class just so that she’ll have more to do.

GM: Lunch breaks continue to be lonely times for Amelie. All of the girls know each other, have their own cliques, and seem to possess an invisible map that designates what spots are acceptable for which people to sit. The school lunches, however, continue to taste delicious, and could easily be restaurant-level fare. The girls who go off-campus for lunch mainly seem to want some extra variety in their diets, and can be found eating at the cafeteria just as often.

Amelie: Lunch becomes a time for review as Amelie figuratively balances her food in one hand and her laptop in the other. She doesn’t deny that she’d like to sit by other people and resolves to make some friends as the days go by. Yvette and Sarah seem like good candidates once they feel more comfortable around her.

GM: Amelie observes that Sarah Whitney spends every lunch period with Susannah Kelly and two other girls she recognizes by sight, and whose full names she eventually fills in as Mackenna Gallagher and Aurora St. John. The four of them appear to be quite popular, and their table is usually surrounded by hangers-on who listen to their every word and laugh at all their jokes.

It’s seemingly by chance that Amelie observes with whom Yvette spends her lunches: her sister Yvonne, and two smaller girls who share their blanched complexions, pale blonde hair, and translucent blue eyes. The physical resemblance between the four young women is already uncanny, and their identical McGehee uniforms make the effect even more pronounced. Only their obvious disparities in age make it possible for Amelie to tell the younger two girls apart. The four eat their lunches in the library and talk exclusively in their formal-sounding metropolitan French.

Amelie: At least lunch allows Amelie to observe the school’s social hierarchy. Sarah is definitely one of the untouchables. It seems Yvette has a family rife with siblings and what she hopes is only selective breeding and not that other thing people often accuse high-class families of.

GM: Ms. Ward never sends Amelie to the principal’s office, but she never seems to quite forget how the new girl showed up tardy during the middle of her introductory speech about why she’s teaching at McGehee instead of pursuing a research career. She’s younger than Ms. Perry, but somewhere between her and Mr. French in terms of the seriousness of her class. She’s friendly enough, and can relate to the students fairly well (she looks maybe a decade older than them at most), but work comes first. In fact, she’s probably the harshest grader out of all of Amelie’s teachers, and clearly has very high expectations for her students. Class follows the same college/AP model of lectures, more emphasis on exams than daily work, one group research project, and the syllabus actually matters.

Amelie: Inorganic Chemistry is a little more tense than Amelie’s other classes. She keeps on her best behavior and often shows up first or second from then on to avoid the teacher’s wrath and demonstrate through her actions that her first day was a one-time accident. The coursework itself is much more serious, but Amelie knows she’s good at this. Inorganic chemical reactions and the understanding of them are what makes a smith a good smith. You know how steel hardens and how different levels of heat affect the introduction of oxygen-leeching borax. She pays close attention, less from mirth like her morning classes, and more from duty. She takes her trade seriously.

GM: Mrs. Laurent doesn’t appear as unenthusiastic for her class as Amelie initially thought and turns out to be maybe slightly more easygoing a grader than Mr. French is. However, the woman speaks in a damnably quiet voice. She isn’t impossible to hear, but missing bits and pieces of her lectures is inevitable unless one pays extremely close attention. Amelie may be amused by the convoluted and always—always—flawlessly polite ways through which her peers entreat their teacher to please, please speak at a higher volume. Mrs. Laurent seems oblivious to each and every one of these requests, and also has a habit of lecturing with her eyes half-lidded, which further compounds the sense that she isn’t quite present during class. Fortunately, small group discussions take up a good chunk of each period.

Amelie: Mrs. Laurent proves to be slightly frustrating, in that her students are always leaning forward to try and make out what she’s saying. Amelie has a solution in mind in the form of a collar-mounted microphone and simple belt speaker to amplify the teacher’s voice. But for now the she just keeps her ears open until it’s time for the group talks, and proves that new kid jitters do not affect her as she shares her opinions and listens to others.

GM: It’s easy for Amelie to see why so many students signed up for Mrs. Flores’ class during sixth period: it’s a relaxing way to end the day and feels more like an extracurricular activity than a proper class. Grading is participation-based, which would be bad for any cutters, but Amelie doesn’t see much cutting in any of her classes—the students all seem to take their studies seriously.

Mrs. Flores spends the first week of class on waltzes, which she calls the “easiest type of dance—most of your grandmas can probably still do it.” She also permits a notable deviation from the school uniform: girls are not only free but encouraged to bring high-heeled shoes to class. “Nothin’ too risque, of course, but you do want to learn to dance in the shoes you’ll actually be dancing in,” the teacher adds.

Even more notably, Mrs. Flores also allows “dress Fridays” when her students don’t have to wear their uniforms. That privilege comes with three caveats, the first of which is that attire must be at least semiformal—skirts or dresses of a minimum knee length, and “definitely no blue jeans.” Secondly, the girls have to change in a nearby locker room before class starts, as the offer is not good for other periods. Finally, they have to change back into their uniforms when class ends, even if they’re driving straight home. Not wearing the uniform is a privilege, Mrs. Flores emphasizes.

That cautionary aside, the class is abuzz with enthusiasm at their teacher’s announcement (though many girls also seem as if they knew it was coming ahead of time), and almost everyone seems as if they’re going to show up in non-uniform come next Friday. The class is generally a very enthusiastic one, and everyone seems like they have a lot of fun, though there are a few occasions when Mrs. Flores has to sit down and direct things from her stool because of her leg.

Amelie: Mrs. Flores’ class proves to be quite fun for Amelie too, and gives her a chance to show off her more physical prowess. She still prefers to lead during dances, but she learns from her first day and plays the female role too, even though she’s sure that the other girls find it awkward to lead around their tall and masculine classmate. Still, she probably needs the practice there.

The mention of dancingwear makes Amelie a little nervous. Her earlier shopping trip with Kristina hasn’t changed her opinion that her fashion sense is… fairly bare-bones. She thinks she can do the dancing shoes at the very least, though.

Amelie stays behind on days when Mrs. Flores seems to be in pain. She offers to help the older woman with stretches to ease the pain and shows her the rigors of ice skating injury recovery.

GM: Mrs. Flores thanks Amelie several further times for her thoughtfulness on the first day of class. On subsequent occasions, she simply smiles and tells the young woman she’s “very sweet, but you don’t need to worry about me. My leg’s been this way since ‘03, so I’m used to managing.” She laughs. “It won’t be too much longer before it’s old enough to take this class.”

Amelie: Amelie still offers her services every day the pain seems to be a bother for her teacher. Long-term injuries are a different story than injuries from the last few years, but unless the muscle itself is missing Amelie keeps the offer open. Either for fetching ice packs, being a partner for stretches, or helping her walk to her car.

GM: Amelie’s after-school afternoons are fairly open. She has an hour to kill every Tuesday and Thursday before driver’s ed begins, but she receives enough homework from her classes that she can put the time to productive use studying in the library. Getting behind the wheel is intimidating at first, but it doesn’t take long before she can drive a car in basic laps around an empty lot.

Christina also helps Amelie set up a bank account at Whitney Hancock National Bank. She leaves a monthly allowance in it for expenses like clothes, cab fare, eating out, and the like so that Amelie doesn’t need to ask her for money all the time.

Her aunt also recommends that Amelie apply for a credit card, and is willing to co-sign for one if her first two applications get rejected. She cautions Amelie to always pay back the monthly balance in full, and to use it simply to establish a good credit history—which she will need even more than the average person if she intends to open a business. Banks and would-be investors alike will want to see evidence that she can handle money responsibly.

Amelie: Amelie’s life outside of school moves quite a bit faster as they get the bank account set up and apply for a credit card right afterwards. She does some reading and postulates that the longer she has the card the more likely the bank will be willing to set up a corporate card once she gets her business off the ground.

The monthly alllowance is another matter. Given the facts she rarely eats out, considers it wasteful to take cabs, and already has a bunch of clothes from both Quebec and shopping with Kristina, it simply feels like free money. Still, she leaves it at that.

GM: Amelie is able to purchase a pair of rollerblades without issue. Her aunt pointedly makes no comment.

Amelie: For all the silence that purchase meets, Amelie doubts her aunt can argue with the results. It’s not long before the she’s whipping in between traffic like she’s gliding on ice. She’s actually faster than the streetcar on days with congested enough traffic.

GM: Ms. Nguyen gets back to Amelie several days later about the Rebecca M. Whitney Foundation’s ISA program. She has a brochure and repeats that she can arrange for Amelie to meet one of the foundation’s members. She adds that it will not be a formal interview or anything of the sort, merely a simple ‘question and answer’ meeting that the foundation is happy to entertain from potentially interested students.

Amelie: Ms. Nguyen’s pamphlets are as useful as always. She pours over the information inside, thanks the counselor for her time, and says she’ll have more information for her in the coming month. She would would love to have that Q & A meeting once she has some examples her work and a write-up of the material costs she’ll need to get her feet wet.

GM: Ms. Nguyen clarifies that the foundation will be happy to meet with Amelie simply to answer questions, as opposed to deciding whether she qualifies for the ISA, but leaves it at that.

Ms. Perry provides some time during Friday for her students to do research on their group projects. She also admonishes them, “With only ten of y’all, I can tell who’s checking Facebook!” Yvette mentions that she spoke with her mother and Sarah Whitney, and that the Devillers invited the Whitneys over for dinner a few days ago. Sarah’s grandfather Lyman, the bank’s now-retired CEO, was willing to pull some strings and get Yvette into the LaLaurie House for a night as a favor to her family. Amelie still isn’t sure how allowable that is under the bank’s policies, but nepotism and old-boy networking seems to be everything in Louisiana.

Lyman is willing to let Yvette bring along a single classmate of her choice, but was stern this was not to turn into a slumber party. If there’s any damage to the historic house, the Devillers are paying for it—and Yvette’s mother expects Amelie’s family to pay for it.

“’E also mentioned a liability waiver to sign in case the curse kills us,” Yvette states dryly.

Amelie: Class with Yvette is a real kicker. Amelie is surprised that it only took a week for Sarah to not only get back to her grandfather, but for the two families to meet and give them the thumbs up.

“That’s… that’s great! Honestly, I didn’t think it’d be this easy. As for the curse, I think it might only apply to the owners of the house. As long as Sarah doesn’t come with us.” She laughs lightly before asking, “Are you sure you want to do this, then? Spend the night in this scary old place? It sounds like we aren’t allowed to bring that priest or voodoo mambo like I suggested.”

GM: “Of course,” Yvette answers. “It’ll be a much better presentation if Ah can actually go inside the ‘ouse we’ll be talking about, no? Besides, mah mother and Ah already asked Monsieur Whitney. ’E’s been so nice to us, Ah’d be rude to back out now. Ah didn’t ask ‘im about any priests, though. Ah wouldn’t want to bother one over something like this. And don’t be silly, Ah wouldn’t want to damage the ’ouse letting in some voodoo clochard.”

Amelie: “That’s wise,” Amelie nods. “But I want you to know the offer is open. I can always spend the night alone with a camera. Though I think I’ll bring one anyway.” She doesn’t overlook Yvette calling Vodouisant priests tramps, but she lets it go.

“I’m heading to a cathedral after school today, however. I’ll at least ask the priest their advice on the matter. The interaction between religion and ghosts is something interesting I’d like to explore. How Catholics love to have buildings consecrated and exorcised of spirits, and how New Orleans’ Vodoun traditions interact with hauntings. Did they give a certain time they’d like us to visit?”

GM: “Oui,” Yvette answers, “Frahday next week. Monsieur Whitney said it would take a bit to pull strings, and mah mother would rather Ah did something like that on a non-school night.”

“And that’s very nice of you, but Monsieur Whitney is letting me stay the night as a favor to mah mother. ’E’s letting me bring one classmate, but Ah ’ave to be there with ’er.”

Amelie: “That’s good of him. I’ll have to think him personally, if I ever get the chance. Friday gives us time, though, that’s good. Maybe we should call Ms. Perry over and inform her of the good news. I’m sure she’d be amazed.”

GM: “Be mah guest,” Yvette offers as she scrolls through something on her laptop.

Ms. Perry is talking to another pair of students, but in the ten-girl class, Amelie does not have to try very hard or wait for very long to make herself heard. “All righty, what can I do for you gals?” the black-haired teacher asks as she strides over.

Amelie: Amelie nods and beckons Ms. Perry when she can, smiling as the teacher approaches. “We just wanted to give you the good news. We secured a night pass to stay in the LaLaurie House for our project.”

GM: “Oh wow, for real? You two better watch out for that curse, no telling if it might haunt you later,” Ms. Perry smiles.

Yvette replies with a faintly sardonic one. “We can only ‘ope not, ma’am.”

Amelie: “The curse has only ever affected owners though, hasn’t it?”

GM: “Good point,” Ms. Perry laughs. “you two are probably safe if you don’t plan on moving in. But that’s wonderful for you though, really it is. Who knows when that house is going to get snagged up by another movie star… take as many pictures as you can, hear?”

Amelie: “How about you make a small list of things you’d like us to document specifically? I’m sure we can help you out with your curiosity. As long as the ‘attic’ isn’t on that list, of course.” It’s a question in the back of her mind she knows the teacher doesn’t have an answer for, if they sealed that space off or filled it in.

GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea. If the attic is off, definitely the courtyard… that’s where a young slave was supposed to have jumped to her death, because she was so terrified of what Madam LaLaurie would do to her.” Ms. Perry’s smile turns a touch self-depreciating. “I gotta admit I’m just a little jealous. The most haunted house in the city, all yours for one spooooky night.” Yvette smirks and rolls her eyes as Ms. Perry raises her fingers to eye level and wiggles then as if to pantomime a ghost.

Amelie: Amelie chuckles lightly, enjoying the banter. “Actually, ma’am, I do have a question. The slaves in Madam LaLaurie’s possession… were most slaves in those times Christian, or followers of voodoo?”

GM: “You know, that’s a somewhat tricky question,” Ms. Perry answers as she sits down. “We have to remember that Vodoun developed in response to early African slaves being forcibly converted to Catholicism, and as a means for them to continue practicing their native faiths under the watch of their owners. West African religions are syncretic, so the slaves had no problems adopting Catholic saints into their ‘pantheon’, or just viewing them as equivalent names and faces to loa they already revered. The loa Papa Legba, for instance, is considered the same figure as the Catholic St. Peter, and Damballah is another mask for St. Patrick. Fun myth there-,” the teacher smirks, “-the saint who drove the snakes from Ireland in Catholicism is a giant snake in Vodoun.”

“As time went on,” she continues, “Vodoun adopted more Catholic trappings, and its followers didn’t see all that much difference between being Catholic and being a Vodouisant. Marie Laveau considered herself both and she was married in a Catholic ceremony by Padre Antonio, the city’s probably most famous priest. It took time for Vodoun to evolve from an underground religion in the early 1700s into a more public one and even influential social force by the mid-1800s. By the time of Madam LaLaurie, there were around fifteen different voodoo queens who’d amassed quite a bit of power. In fact, it was only a year after Madam LaLaurie’s abuses were exposed, in 1835, that Marie Laveau became New Orleans’ more or less supreme voodoo queen. There’s actually a story that the two of them knew one another—which isn’t impossible, Marie Laveau had a lot of upper-class customers—and raised a baby who was the Devil’s own son together.” Ms. Perry smiles over the rims of her half-oval glasses. “I can’t vouch for whether that last bit’s true, though.”

“Are there many voodoo followers these days?” Yvette asks.

The teacher seems to think for a moment. “They’re still around, but there’s a lot fewer than there used to be. Particularly after Katrina, since a lot of the real believers were poor and some of the most displaced by the storm. People who practice Vodoun these days might just be purely ‘in it for the money’ as something to commercialize and sell to tourists. Others might think of Vodoun as part of their cultural heritage but not ‘really’ believe in it, like an atheist Jew who still celebrates Passover and Hanukkah. Others might think of themselves as Catholic Vodouisants like Marie Laveau did. And probably only a small minority see Vodoun as an exclusive religion.”

“Of course, I might just be talking out of my rear end there,” Ms. Perry smirks, “I don’t actually have any Vodouisant friends. If you ask a Catholic, they’ll probably see Vodoun as a distinct religion, and if you ask a Protestant, they’re even more likely to. History shows us that religion is pretty mutable, and trying to assign hard labels to people’s beliefs can be a tricky thing.”

“But to actually answer to your question, Ms. Savard,” the teacher finishes, “Madam LaLaurie’s slaves were probably Vodouisants who also attended Catholic Mass.”

“Ah don’t see ‘ow that must work, ma’am,” Yvette frowns. “Catholicism isn’t just believing in saints. Do followers of voodoo, for instance, believe in the ‘Oly Trinity? It would seem more like another religion if they don’t. Ah mean, Islam believes in Jesus, but not that ’E is the son of God or rose from the dead.”

“Afraid I can’t answer that, Ms. Devillers. My degree’s in history, not theology.”

“Hmm, well, one thing you maybe can. Is that what they’re called, people who follow the religion? ‘Followers of voodoo’?”

“That’s a somewhat roundabout way of describing them,” Ms. Perry smiles. “The religion’s name is Vodoun, or ‘Vodou’ with a ‘u’—the spelling with two ’o’s is how Hollywood spells it. ‘Vodouisants’ or ‘Vodouists’ is the term we use for someone who believes Vodoun. Less of a mouthful, isn’t that?”

“Oui. Rather so,” Yvette smiles faintly back.

Amelie: Amelie keeps quiet as she listens to Yvette and Ms. Perry talk, nodding along and thinking up questions. Papa Legba makes her think of two things, the first of which is Baba Yaga. Despite her fascination with New Orleans, the study of fencing takes one to northern Europe and its own legends and folktales.

The other thing Legba makes her think of is an embarrassingly cheesy new TV series in which Papa Legba and Madame LaLaurie are prominent characters. The loa is depicted as a sly and playful man who makes iron deals and doles out harsh punishments in hell. Now that she thinks about it, his demon-like role paints him in a very Catholic light. She doubts West African Vodouisants had ideas about hell before the Catholics sewed it into their skin.

“The issue I think I’m taking is that I see Louisiana as a very strange spot, in that I don’t think I could rightfully lump it all together. From my reading, New Orleans’ development of voodoo, with all ’o’s’, basically became a local ‘folkway’. Not quite African or Haitian Vodou, not quite Deep South hoodoo, but very much a practice while I would be wary to call it a religion. Yet we all associate this Creole ‘folkway’ with the voodoo queen Marie Laveau. Of course, you can steal a name and commercialize it, and that’s indeed what’s happened. I can’t google any spelling of Vodou without some mid-50s white woman in middle America telling me her gris-gris is 30% off.”

She’s not smiling as she makes the joke. New Orleans’ commercialization bothers her.

“I think it’s a question to ask, though. Maybe I’ll snoop around for a living practitioner to get her two cents on New Orleans’ dearly not-so-departed for the paper.”

GM: “Talking to someone who knows more about Vodoun than us couldn’t hurt,” Ms. Perry nods. “Who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a new thing or two to teach us about the religion.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and taps the table with her finger as the wheels turn in her head. It might be best to get the opinion of both or either a Catholic priest and a Vodouisant. She hasn’t taken confession in a while, anyway.

“Either way, we should bring plenty of cameras and take some video as well. With how much it’s been renovated I’m sure it’s not anything like it once was, but if we work at it I’m sure we can identify original features between all the replicas. Though I have to wonder what they may have done with ‘that’ attic door.”

GM: “Perhaps you’ll just get to find out,” Ms. Perry smiles.

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: After school gets out for the day, Amelie either walks or skates home on the now-familiar route past rows of old houses, verdant gardens, and majestic Southern live oaks. The muggy heat is no less stifling than it was on her first week in New Orleans, and perspiration is slick against the Canadian transplant’s back when she finally enters her aunt’s blessedly cool, air-conditioned house. Christina is not home. After a quick shower, Amelie hits up the internet for her latest line of research.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the trip more on skates, at least. Her speed makes the wind rush right past her and cools her off slightly. Still, her first thought when she opens the door is a string of expletives in two languages as she feels sweat making her uniform stick to her back. The shower and change of clothes greatly improve her mood as she sits down by her room’s desk and turns on her laptop. The former already houses several stacks of printed reference material as she works towards her next goal: the Vodouisants of New Orleans.

GM: Amelie’s search proves slow going, but she eventually turns up the names of several Vodouisants who also sound like priests (mambos and houngans, as the female and male ones are respectively called).

A man named Toussaint turns up the most results. He is apparently known for hosting semi-public rites and ceremonies in Tremé, the Ninth Ward, and other poorer parts of the city. Toussaint does not maintain a personal website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media presence that Amelie can find. Indeed, she only finds out that he exists by cross-referencing a number of police reports (many people associated with him have been arrested at some time or other), and an article by the Times-Picayune about “modern voodoo kings and queens in the Big Easy.”

A woman named Julia Jackson claims to sell charms, curses, love potions, and assorted spells from her shop in the French Quarter. She actually has a website, if one that is fairly dated-looking.

A woman named Mama Rosa has been the subject of an anthropologist’s book about Vodoun. Like Toussaint, she has no website of her own, but she is mentioned in the Wikipedia article about the anthropologist (Margaret Harrell), which makes it sound like she lives in either Tremé or the Quarter.

Amelie uncovers two final names from some more online police reports: Doc Tom in Central City and Mama Wedo in the Ninth Ward.

All told, she concludes, legitimate practitioners of Vodoun do not seem to maintain a very large online presence.

Amelie: Two names catch Amelie’s attention the most. Mama Rosa and Mama Wedo. She’s in a girls’ school, so it makes sense to pander to that in her report. She could outline the prominence of ‘voodoo queens’ over the traditional patriarch-driven priesthood of so many other religions. Doc Tom and Toussaint both come up as possibilities too, though Toussaint’s semi-fame makes her a bit dubious. Just because you’re public doesn’t mean you’re authentic. Julia Jackson doesn’t even earn a footnote. Having a store, and one in the French Quarter no less, makes Amelie instantly disregard her. She starts with Mama Wedo, a very mysterious-sounding name if nothing else, and looks around for any means of contacting her.

GM: Amelie looks through page after page of Google results, but cannot find a surname (or given name?) to attach alongside Wedo. Locating an address or phone number for the potential mambo proves frustratingly out of reach.

Mama Rosa’s surname, however, proves easier to locate after Amelie pulls up the title of the book she is featured in (Mama Rosa: A Vodou Priestess in Little Cuba). A few more searches on the online yellow pages pull up both a phone number and a home address in Bywater.

Amelie gives the number a call. The phone rings for a while. “You’ve reached Rosa Rouzier. Leave a message,” states an older-sounding woman’s firm voice. A beep follows.

Amelie: Amelie plans out what to say before dialing the number, but she’s almost relieved when she hears the tone ask her to leave a message. The woman sounds old, which matches what her research turned up, and the name she gives matches too. It’s the best chance the teenager is probably going to get.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Amelie Savard, I was just calling because I was looking for your advice. I’m spending a night in the LaLaurie House for research purposes, and with the stories and my research pointing to those departed from life being Vodousiants in life, I wanted to approach the house as respectfully as possible. Thank you the time you’ve already spent listening to this message, and have a lovely day. Thank you.”

GM: Amelie hits the ‘end call’ button on her new phone. The rest of the weekend stretches before her—and the rest of the week until her promised night in the LaLaurie House.

Amelie: Amelie glances at the time, then grabs her things and hurries out the door. This is a good time to make the other half of her trip until she can talk to Mama Rosa. She uses her phone to navigate the city’s public transportation system and heads out to the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in Jackson Square. The St. Charles streetcar has a route from the Garden District to the French Quarter every ten minutes. Perfect.

GM: The streetcar doesn’t sound like the bus. There’s a distinct clang-clang as it clatters along the tracks, like a tiny railroad car, and a low roar that follows in its wake. Amelie pays to get on, like any other bus. The seats are wood instead of cushioned, the ceiling is a woodish-hued maroon, and its largest advertisement for a local restaurant.

Amelie: Amelie enjoys the streetcar. It’s open-air and feels heavy as it moves. No plastic and paper-thin buses with fogged and closed windows whose wheels grind along bad roads. This mode of transportation feels solid, grounded, and loud not least of all. She puts her earbuds in and leaves the music off just to have a small bit of insulation.

GM: The terminus of her destination is just off Royal Street, at a restaurant called the Court of Two Sisters.

The first thing she notices about the Quarter is how much louder it is than the Garden District. The beeping noise of ongoing traffic was all but absent outside her aunt’s house, as was the indistinct din of multitudes of human beings walking, talking, and going about their lives. The occasional clop-clop of horse’s hooves reminds her that she isn’t in just any city.

So does the music from wafting from three men in white t-shirts and pale fedoras. Each sits on a folding chair in the middle of the street. Their cello quivers, low and deep, while their trombone and saxophone blare and wail. A small crowd listens. Some people record the performance on their phones. A man and woman pull one another into an impromptu swing dance and get cheered by onlookers. A golf cart-like patrol vehicle with a blue-uniformed police officer rolls by.

Not far off, spectators laugh, gawk, and snap pictures at another attraction.

Worth a picture—worth a dollar
Coffins are expensive—tipping is appreciated
Need money for a proper burial

Amelie: Amelie pulls out her earbuds just in time to be assaulted by a wave of new sounds. Royal Street’s noise and architecture is a feast for her senses. People using the streets to panhandle with clever routines and good music is an almost welcome change from the pockmarked tweaker back home who’d use broken French to ask “do you got any change, I need a coffee” from people who can barely stand. The dog gives her a fright for a split second before her eyes scan the sign.

GM: A man abruptly dashes up to Amelie. He is a short, weaselly-looking fellow with dark skin and watery gray eyes. “Hey, girl. Betcha twenty dollars I know where you got your shoes!” he calls.

Amelie: The man is the two in a one-two punch and makes Amelie nearly jump as she turns away from the dog and almost runs into him. She pulls herself together as the man talks and smirks lightly at his proposed bet. She digs a hand into her jeans and pulls a $10 bill out of her wallet to offer him. “Sorry, I’m a shitty gambler. Better just buy out before you know my tells. You mind giving me some directions though, Mr…?”

GM: “Oh, why, ’course, girl! I know this city like the palm of my hand!” the watery-eyed man exclaims, happily plucking the bill from Amelie’s fingers as he dances up around her.

Amelie: Amelie turns on her heel to keep the man’s eyes level with hers. She notes he didn’t take the hint to give his name. “I’m looking for the St. Louis Cathedral.”

GM: The man leans forward and taps Amelie’s shoulder, then quickly pulls away and slinks behind her, pointing down the street as she follows his hand. “One block down Royal, stop at the green lawn with the Jesus statue. Can’t miss it!”

That’s also when Amelie spots his other hand creeping towards the pocket she pulled out her wallet from.

Amelie: Smooth as the man is (or thinks he is), he’s doing this in a heavy tourist area. Making movements too quick and close for anyone to follow just shows what he’s up to. The shoulder tap is an even bigger warning, and Amelie’s hands go in her pockets as she spots where the man’s hand is moving. She grips her wallet firmly and mentally thanks the Lonely Planet Guide to New Orleans for its sidebar about pickpockets and conmen in the French Quarter.

“Sorry, sir, but I’m not technically a tourist. Thank you though, you have a good day.”

She steps away from the man and briskly heads in the cathedral’s without another word. Her hands stay firmly in both pockets.

GM: “Fuck you, dyke! Even got your directions!” the man whines after Amelie as she leaves.

Amelie: Amelie just waves with the hand not gripping her wallet and doesn’t waste any more energy. He’s got to make a living too, and it’s not worth dragging him through the mud or reporting him to the police. Part of her really wants to punish him for trying, though. What a rude little man. Still, taking in the sights on her way to the cathedral puts her in a good move again.

GM: The man’s directions at least prove true. It is not overlong before the soaring cathedral fills Amelie’s vision.

Its semi-famed Christ statue is less ominous when the sun is up. The edifice casts a tremendous black shadow, like something distorted by a fun-house mirror, in the nighttime photographs Amelie has viewed. One’s gaze is still all but pulled to the Nazarene’s enveloping stone arms, which stretch wide as if to receive all the world’s poor sinners into his fold.

Amelie next passes through the so-called Pirate’s Alley to reach the front of the cathedral.

Jackson Square. The cultural and historic heart of the Big Easy.

The square is named for its iconic equestrian bronze statue of Andrew Jackson mounted on horseback, erected to commemorate the former president and general’s victory at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. The area around the statue is landscaped with circular paths, fountains, trees, flower beds, gas lamps, and an iron fence. Benches and statues of the four seasons sit in the corners.

The Jackson statue is fronted on two sides by matching red-brick, block-long 4-story buildings: the Upper Pontalba Building and the Lower Pontalba Building. The ground floors house shops and restaurants; the upper floors are apartments, inhabited since 1849 by some of the city’s wealthiest residents, and the oldest continuously-rented apartments in North America.

The third side of Jackson Square overlooks the Washington Artillery Park & Moonwalk. The former attraction holds a Civil War canon in honor of the 141st Field Artillery of the Louisiana National Guard, while the latter is a brick walking path named in dedication to former mayor Moon Landrieu.

Jackson Square’s fourth side faces the church its image has become nigh-synonymous with in photographs: Saint Louis Cathedral, the oldest continually operating church in the United States, and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The historic cathedral is flanked by the Cabildo and the Presbytere. Once, Amelie knows these two early Spanish structures were used by the state supreme court and by the city as a courthouse. Today they constitute the Louisiana State Museum.


But Jackson Square is more than historic buildings and tourist attractions.

Artists hawk their wares and works to flocks of chattering Japanese tourists, curious college students, and Midwestern parents. Painters and photographers try their hands at capturing the city’s image for posterity. Mimes pantomime their struggles to escape invisible prisons. Jugglers dextrously toss rainbow-colored clubs through the air to applauding audiences. New Age and neopagan devotees tell fortunes and read palms and tarot cards, promising to “lay bare the mysteries of your past, divine the portents of your future!” Horses pull carriages as tour guides regale audiences with anecdotes from the the Crescent City’s history (such as the murdered sultan of Dauphine Street, a fantastically wealthy Turk who moved into a renoved townhouse with a harem of bewitching slave girls and eunuch bodyguards, only for them all to be savagely rent limb from limb by assailants unknown). A man in a gold spray-painted sweatshirt, with equally golden spray-painted skin, mutely regards his onlookers as he proceeds towards some unknowable destination with exaggerated, robotic steps. Off by the Artillery Park, a small boy climbs onto the Civil War cannon while his mother shouts for him to get back down.

The music never ceases. There’s saxophonists, trombonists, and buskers aplenty throughout the area around the Square, but it’s the slow and heartful tune of a violin that most catches Amelie’s ears. An older man wearing plain clothes stands near the statue of Andrew Jackson, a violin case open in front of him. His eyes are closed as he gently plays a superb rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria. Onlookers gather around the man. Some toss coins or bills into his case, but he doesn’t acknowledge them or open his eyes. He simply continues to play, seemingly lost in his music.

The cathedral’s tall black doors silently loom past the statue of America’s seventh president.

Amelie: Jackson Square’s degree of activity is almost dizzying to Amelie. She could always tell from pictures that New Orleans is a bustling city, alive with everything one could imagine, but actually being there is a completely diffetent experience. She stops every few steps to take something new in, and it soon gets to the point where she’s grabbing onto random objects just to feel them beneath her hands. Old walls. The alley’s wrought iron fences. Glass lanterns. Door frames. The city’s history is well and alive. Every sight is incredible. The style isn’t as intricate or grand as Château Frontenac, but the feeling is so much more open and classical. It’s like the people who lived here wanted to feel the wind every moment of their lives. It’s almost strange how touching that suddenly feels.

Amelie wanders for enough time to realize the heat might start to get to her if she doesn’t make her way inside. She slows her pace past the master violinist and the many artists and fortune-tellers. It’s only a few more moments before she makes her way up the cathedral’s doors and smooths her hands along the old wood before she pushes them open.

GM: It’s just as Amelie shakes off her semi-stupor that she feels a hand lightly brushing against her side. Against her pocket. She sharply turns around.

It’s the guy from earlier. The same one.

Amelie: Amelie’s expression is clear as death as her hand darts to check for her wallet. She’s starting to get angry. “In front of a church!? I was more than fair with you, leave me alone!”

GM: The watery-eyed man quickly withdraws his hand as Amelie catches him. His features are scrunched in frustration as she confirms her wallet is still there.

“Cheap-ass carpet-muncher! I’d rather suck dick than stick mine in a cunt as slimed over as yours! You wanna be a man so bad, ‘girl’, you too chickenshit to hack off those walnut-sized tits?”

Amelie: Amelie feels it coming like a crashing wave behind her eyelids. Her turning point towards violence.

“Cheap!? What planet are you from!? It’s my wallet, you windshield eye wiper-needing motherfucker! Why are you wasting your time being butthurt that I know a pickpocket when I see one, rather than going and digging too close to some tourist’s dick! What, you wanna hold a grudge like a woman, go cut off that gumbo shrimp you call a dick and cook it for your mother so you can both go eat a dick! I’m calling the cops!”

GM: The man dances behind Amelie and laughs in her ear, a sound not unlike an apoleptic hissing cobra. She feels wet flecks of spittle against her neck and hair.

“Ha ha! Go ahead, dyke hag! Cops don’t give a fuck! Go back to ’Frisco!” the man jeers.

Amelie: Pop. The crashing wave turns into a watershed.

Amelie doesn’t bother with retorts. Her expression visibly calms, but her body moves frighteningly fast. The ‘dyke hag’ steps back with her left foot and spins, putting her her whole hip into a hook shot aimed right for the man’s crotch.

It’s not her first fight. The little girl teased for being too strong while chasing scared boys with sticks got into plenty of those.

GM: Amelie’s fist drives into the jeering man’s testicles like a jackhammer. His bulging eyes are practically wide enough to resemble china plates as his mouth puckers into a perfect ‘o’, his knees buckle out from under him, and he topples helplessly to the ground.

“Ohhh-hhh-ohhh… hhh… yyyeeaaah…” he moans.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything. She double-checks her wallet and pulls out her phone to dial 911 as she heads towards the church doors for protection. She gave the man slack before, but now she just wants the cops to take him away so she can get on with her afternoon.

Despite everything, though, she has to admit she needed that. It’s a chunk of frustration off her shoulders.

GM: The man’s watery eyes rapidly blink. His lips pull back from his teeth into a grimace… and quivering smile that has all the warmth and greasiness of melted butter. His left hand weakly caresses his battered manhood. His right one snags out to grab the leg of Amelie’s jeans.

“Hit me… ’gain… dykie!” he wheezes.

Meanwhile, exclamations of notice go up from Jackson Square’s many and now-gawking bystanders.

Amelie: Amelie stuffs her wallet into her sports bra to keep it safe as she pulls out her phone, dials 911 and calls to the crowd, “HELP! This man keeps trying to take my wallet! You! Guy in the red shirt, please come help me hold him down while I call 911!” She tries to cut through the bystander effect as she listens to the phone dialing and plants a foot on the man’s back keep him on the ground.

GM: A few more people gawk as Amelie sticks her wallet down her shirt, but calling 911 turns out to be unnecessary when she spots a man already making his way through the staring and picture-snapping crowd. He’s wearing a short-sleeved pressed shirt, dark green pants, and full black utility belt. The side of his shirt is printed with a six-pointed star with the Louisiana pelican in its center. His clean-shaven, ruddy-complexioned doughy face is set in a humoring smirk. “Ma’am, please remove your foot and step away from that man.”

“Off… cer! She att… acked me! She’s crazy!” the would-be pickpocket wheezes from the ground.

Amelie: Amelie hangs up the call and slides her phone back into her pocket. She puts up her hands and takes a step back, should the man not still be clinging to her jeans, and folds her hands in front of her as she waits for the police officer.

“This man asked for money when I stepped off the 12 to St. Charles. I gave him ten dollars and he tried to take my wallet. Followed me here when I caught him and walked away, sir.”

GM: “That’s… not true! Search me, officer, I ain’t got ten bucks!” the man wheezes, ambling to his feet as he dusts himself off. He has since released Amelie.

“Uh-huh, I see. What was he doing on the ground?” the cop asks.

Bystanders continue to hold their phones up around the trio. Clicks and tapping noises go up from many.

Amelie: Amelie steps a few more feet away from the man as he gets up. “He kept trying to get behind me and I was afraid. So I punched him in the crotch, sir.”

GM: “Uh-huh now,” the police officer clucks.

“She did! She’s crazy! She’s a psycho!” Amelie’s would-be pickpocket whines in agreement.

Amelie: Amelie just keeps a straight back and a calm face. “Should I get my IDs out for you, sir? I put them in my shirt.”

GM: There’s a few laughs and ‘wows’ from the crowd. The only person seemingly unmoved is the violinist. His eyes are still closed and his face remains tranquil as he gently strums the instrument.

The officer pulls out some handcuffs and snaps them around the dark-skinned man’s wrists.

“Hey! Bullshit!” he whines.

“Ma’am, please come with me,” the cop states as he takes the man’s arm and leads him away.

Amelie: Amelie obeys the officer, takes her wallet back out of her shirt, and puts it back into her pants. She keeps quiet as she lets him lead.

GM: “You’re under arrest, blah blah Miranda warning, I’m sure you remember it as well as I do by now,” the cop drawls to the man in a familiar tone as the three walk off.

“This is bullshit! You’d cuff her if she wasn’t white!” the man whines.

“Probably,” the cop agrees. “Now you know the first law in the Quarter as well as I do, pervert.”

Amelie: The exchange is hauntingly familiar. Just replace ‘black’ with ‘native’, turn the thermostat down, and Amelie’s back home again. But she knows it’s better to keep quiet and follow the officer’s directions until spoken to.

GM: The officer leads the three only a short distance off from Jackson Square where his Polaris is parked. The vehicle resembles nothing so much as a militarized golf cart. He helps the sullen-looking cuffed man into the back seat.

“I didn’t do nothing!” the pickpocket whines.

The officer turns back to regard Amelie and grins widely. “You know, ma’am, I’m on patrol for the French Quarter Response Force right now.”

Amelie: Amelie gives him a confused look. “French Quarter Response Force? I’m sorry, I’m new to New Orleans, I’m not familiar. But thank you for your service, in either case.”

GM: “Yeah, Mr. Moreno thanks us too,” says the cop. “I’m getting paid $50 an hour right now, plus goodies like gift certificates at Ruth’s Chris Steak House whenever I pick up troublemakers. Those are usually $100. Mr. Moreno doesn’t want any trash on these streets, no sir.”

Amelie: “That’s… wow, that’s staggering. Does Mr. Moreno own a lot of property in the French Quarter?”

GM: “Oh yes, he’s very concerned about public safety. There’s a lot of crime here in the Quarter,” the cop agrees. “Like psycho dykes punching people in the balls.”

“She did! She even said so!” the cuffed man wheedles.

Amelie: Amelie winces a bit and nods slowly. She deserves that. “I’m sorry, officer. I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I was up against a wall and stopped thinking. I was here to visit the cathedral for a paper, and already explained what happened after that.”

GM: “Oh now, ma’am, I understand how it is,” the officer smiles. “This pervert’s always making trouble. Frankly, I’d be kicking him in the balls too, if I didn’t know he got off to it.”

The smile widens to a grin.

“Sounds like you’re a student somewhere too, to be working on a paper?”

Amelie: Amelie nods slightly. “I’d tell you where, but I don’t put it past present company to visit me there.”

She instead pulls out her student ID and hands it to him. “I’m asking about the haunting at the LaLaurie House.”

GM: “Oh now, you go to McGehee? I hear that’s a pretty nice school. Your family must be rich,” the cop remarks unconcernedly as he looks over Amelie’s ID and hands it back.

Amelie: Amelie winces when the man says it out loud anyway. Still, it’s not like the watery-eyed man can easily get that deep into the Garden District.

“Not really, sir, no. But I had the grades for it. But if there’s nothing else you need, am I free to continue back to the cathedral?”

GM: “Really, your folks ain’t rich? You get a scholarship, something like that?” the cop asks.

Amelie: “More like… a loan. I’ll be paying it back when I leave high school.”

GM: “Now ain’t that a plum shame for us both,” the policeman clucks.

“Still, I can see how things might be for you. You must owe a lotta money already, going someplace nice like that. I sure wouldn’t wanna owe any more if I was you.”

Amelie: “Well, and then there’s college to think about,” she mentions, feeling a lump in her throat. She can’t follow the cop’s thought process here.

“But, do you mind I get going, sir? I’m kind of shaky still, and I’d like to… get my info for my paper, and head home.”

GM: “Since you said you’re new to town, ma’am, battery carries a fine of up to $1,000 here. Here in the great state of Louisiana,” the cop grins. “Plus up to six months in jail. The judge’ll see you up to three days later, and you gotta hire a lawyer to wrangle out the plea deal. You gotta strip naked in front of a buncha cops when you check into jail, too.”

The cuffed man shoots Amelie a rancid smirk.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes widen slightly at the man’s talk as she clears her throat. Is he trying to blackmail her or just scare her?

“That’s… not pleasant to think about, sir.”

She’s not scared of the threats. It’s more the man himself who’s leaving her ill at ease. Americans and their shit law system are lots of fun to poke at from a distance, but right up close is another matter.

GM: “Oh yes, it’s not,” the cop agrees as he pulls out a second pair of handcuffs from his Polaris and walks up close to Amelie.

“But y’know, lawyer, judge, three days… you’ve got money. Be a lot easier on us all to cut out the middlemen, wouldn’t it?” he drawls quietly.

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘aha’ in her head and mentally pulls herself together as the man makes his intentions clear. She takes a small breath and nods her head as she thinks. It’s a gamble, but she goes for it.

“I don’t have any family besides my aunt, sir. She was a lawyer, so I’m not worried about the legalities. The naked thing doesn’t bother me a whole lot, either. But I don’t have anything to give you anyway, the loan went right to tuition, not into my pocket. I’m only still in high school. I’m also sure there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, and I don’t want to burden you. May I please go, sir? I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

GM: The policeman laughs. It’s a hard and mirthless sound, but his eyes glint as he takes another step closer to Amelie. He casually plants an arm against the building wall behind her head.

“Well, missy, that’s too bad you don’t got any money. I’ll still get a gift card bringing you in. Here in the great state of Louisiana, see, which you don’t sound like you’re from, 20-year-olds happen to be grown-ups. Even if they are dumb enough to still be in high school. They go to the grown-ups’ jail, face grown-ups’ charges, and get to keep it all on their arrest records.”

The policeman leans forward until his grin fills Amelie’s vision. She can feel his breath hot against her face as he whispers, “See, missy… in this city, nothing is difficult, unless it has to be. Understand?”

Amelie: Amelie gives an ‘oh’ look like it’s no big deal, taps her chin, and nods.

“I understand, sir. I’m sorry, like you said, I’m not even from the States. I hope you didn’t think I was trying to make excuses. But I was honest about the money, I have maybe 20 dollars left in my wallet. What could I do to make this easy for everyone?”

His breath stinks. She wants to punch him and run, especially after the comment on her age, but that’d only make things worse.

GM: “You can match the $100 I’d get bringing you in, is what you can do,” the cop answers, but his voice is no longer an easy drawl. There’s a dangerously rising impatience to it.

Amelie: "Can I get to an ATM, then? Please?’

GM: The policeman stares into Amelie’s eyes, then pulls back and smiles again. “Don’t get any funny ideas now. I know your face.”

Amelie: “You know more than that, I showed you my ID,” she notes before letting him direct her to the nearest ATM. She just wants to get this over with.

GM: The man does not do so, and seems unwilling to leave behind the arrested and handcuffed man who harassed her earlier. The latter shoots Amelie a sullen glare. A dark look is starting to reappear on the former’s face.

Amelie: Amelie shrugs and tells him she’ll be right back. She resolves to just take the hundred dollar hit to her allowance and come back immediately.

GM: Amelie weaves back through Jackson Square’s now-reoccupied crowds and past the still-playing, close-eyed violinist. She is fortunately able to find an ATM in short order. The modern-looking machine is discongruently all but jack-hammered into the side of a historic-looking building.

The cop counts the $100 when she’s back, pockets it, and offers a friendly smile. “Stay out of trouble now, ma’am.”

The handcuffed pickpocket is gone from the Polaris.

Amelie: Amelie looks back at the cart, looks towards the cop, and offers a wordless nod as she turns away. A ball of violent hate rolls around in her gut. It’s already been too long of a day. She proceeds towards the cathedral again and resolves to take confession and calm herself down before she asks for a priest. She wants to get as far away from this situation as she can.

GM: The cop lays his hand on Amelie’s shoulder just as she turns to leave. “Oh, now let’s have that Jackson in your pocket too.”

Amelie: Amelie sighs as she takes out the $20 bill and hands it to him. “I have to give it to you, you’re smooth. I’ll learn from this and stay out of trouble.”

GM: “I get paid either way,” the cop offers with a simultaneous smile and shrug as he tucks away the bill. He climbs into his golf cart-like vehicle and drives off.

Amelie: Amelie just sneers at nothing. Moreno. She’ll remember that name.

Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015

GM: The interior of St. Louis Cathedral is cavernous enough for Amelie’s footsteps to audibly echo. Flags of nations from France to England to the United States hang from the ceiling, interspersed by the soft light of candlelit chandeliers. Tiny cherubs proffer basins of holy water beside gold-festooned pillars. Stained glass images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles serenely gaze down upon the Friday afternoon’s small congregation. Many of their heads are silently bowed in prayer. There are tourists too, but they are quiet as they take pictures. There is some quality endemic to cathedrals this vast and old that engenders a silence more total than any library’s. Amelie can make out two black-garbed and white-collared priests near the altar at the far end of the chamber.

Amelie: The silence is like a soothing breeze to Amelie. She breathes it in through her nose and out through her mouth as she takes in the beautiful surroundings and tries to calm herself. The historic church is everything she imagined. Bright and grand, with painstakingly detailed work and hand craftsmanship that preserves its history and import. Just three years to go until the third centennial for this great building.

The young woman keeps her steps quiet and approaches the end of the aisle where the two fathers are. She hopes she won’t bother them too much with her interruptions.

GM: The two priests are engaged in discussion near the statue of St. Peter, who bears heaven’s keys in his right hand. The first priest is an older man in maybe his 70s with a full head of silvery hair. His equally full salt and pepper beard has only a few streaks of pepper still left among the salt. Bushy eyebrows meet over weary blue-gray eyes and a thick, wide nose. He leans heavily upon a cane.

The second priest looks much younger, perhaps in his early 30s. He has slim, almost facial features, ash-brown hair, and solemn gray eyes.

“…Father, you are unwell,” states the younger priest.

“You have responsibilities, Adam,” the older one answers. Both of their voices are quiet, though his volume is especially low.

“As do we all. But there are few parishioners here now, and you may better serve the later ones if you are rested and healthy.

The older priest seems to chew on the younger one’s words, then finally replies, “All right. So long as you stay here. I will call you if I need you.”

“Of course, Father.”

The priests exchange farewells as the older one limps off, clearly favoring one leg (and his cane). The younger priest initially moves to assist him, but the older one motions him off.

The younger priest watches his senior go, then turns to regard Amelie. “May I help you?” he asks quietly.

Amelie: Amelie initially approaches the priests with intent, but takes a respectful few steps back when she hears their still-ongoing conversation. She doesn’t mean to eaveadrop, but she can’t help but respect them both after what she overhears. One is concerned for the other one, who’s concerned for their flock. The end of their conversation is not good news for her intentions, though.

“I’m sorry, Father, I didn’t mean to interupt. Though it seems less likely now that any priests are free for confession?”

GM: “I am available,” the ashen-haired priest answers Amelie.

Amelie: "Only if you’re sure, Father. I don’t want to get you in trouble with your senior. Do you take confession in the booth? "

GM: “The confessional is the only place a priest receives confession, barring a just reason to hear it elsewhere,” the priest answers Amelie. He turns and leads her a short distance away from the altar towards the grilled and box-shaped wooden structure. Amelie enters through a door-less latticed opening that leaves her still visible to the public. The priest remains hidden. There is no chair for the confessant to sit upon like some new churches have, but there is a kneeler.

Amelie: Amelie feels a bit sheepish when the priest has to correct her on how the confessional is used and even what it’s called. She follows him inside the wooden enclosure and slowly kneels. Movies made her think that was the confessant’s choice when she was younger, but historical paintings at least made her familiar with kneelers.

She’s silent for a few moments. It’s been awhile.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… four years and a half since my last confession. I accuse myself of the following sins,” she starts.

GM: The priest patiently listens.

Amelie: “When my father spun to the bottom of a bottle, he approached me with more and more anger every day. I was working in the shop to keep us fed, with the help of my neighbors. We were smiths in a small theme town in Quebec. Just a few months before I was taken from the house, he raged at me with a bottle and threatened to beat me. I took a sword off the wall. Just a sharpened blade with no handle. It made him angry and he lunged at me. When he did, I… I’m sorry. I swung at him, and sliced open his face from mouth to ear.”

“I stayed in a group home after that and was teased every day. I keep my hair short. People assume. But this one girl, an unapologetic terror, would not stop. Day and night. One day, she stole my clothes while I was in the shower. My hate boiled over the next day. I tore off my chair’s leg during group therapy and assaulted her with it.”

“I also feel like I’m taking advantage of my aunt. She worked to ship me across a country, took me in, gave me a home, and put me in a good school. But I feel like I have nothing to offer her. I feel like I’m a burden on her, and making her spend money on something she’ll get no returns on right away. I can’t even properly comfort her about her sister, my mother, vanishing.”

“I also… often think of fighting. It’s as though I need to best someone, or a tension behind my eyes won’t go away. I sated this by fencing when I was younger, but now that I’m not, I feel this pressure to strike out at people who wrong me. Like I did just today.”

“My final sin I can think of was just this past hour. A man approached me off the streetcar and tried to steal my wallet. I caught him and left, to come here. But he followed me. After he tried again, and I felt him becoming a threat, I struck him without thinking. Hard. A corrupt policeman blackmailed me into giving him money. So I paid. I was scared he’d arrest me for assault. But I didn’t realize until too late that he and the pickpocket were working together.”

“For these sins and all those that I cannot remember, I humbly repent and ask for absolution, counsel, and penance.”

GM: “Very well,” sounds the invisible voice behind the booth’s grill. “Let us begin with counsel. You say that you are a burden upon your aunt. Why do you believe she took you in?”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t like the question. “I don’t know. We only saw each other a few times when I was growing up. I’d imagine it’s even painful to see me. Maybe just an obligation to my mother.”

GM: “Perhaps. Tell me, daughter, what is your interpretation of this scriptural verse? ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.’”

Amelie: Amelie has to wonder on the passage for a moment, but she knows what the priest is trying to say in the process. “That it wishes people to treat children as though they were treasures.”

She wants to point out how old she is, versus the age of childbearing in the times the scripture would have been written, and the fact that she’s not her aunt’s child, but leaves the man to make his point.

GM: “The scripture tells us that children are treasures,” the priest corrects Amelie. “But you are otherwise correct.”

“You say that you wish to compensate your aunt for the money she has spent on your care. Yet according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost for a middle-income family to raise a child from infancy to 17 years of age is just over $230,000. That is enough money to buy a house. That is enough money to buy many material things. Yet even the most materially fixated parents choose to forgo those things.”

“The decision whether to bring new life into the world is a deeply personal one, and parents may arrive at it for many different reasons. Yet few parents in the developed world realistically expect their children to be financially profitable ‘investments.’ As the scripture tells us, children have value beyond the material. Their value is intrinsic and decreed thus by God.”

“I do not know your aunt or her motivations for taking you in. Certainly, however, if she wanted ‘returns’, then finding another relative to care for you or simply leaving the foster system to do so would have been a more financially sound decision. It would seem more likely that your aunt was motivated by altruistic reasons such as love or a sense of responsibility—and recognition that caring for her sister’s child was important for reasons beyond simply money.”

Amelie: The priest’s numbers and statistics catch Amelie slightly off-guard. She wasn’t expecting those from a man of the cloth. They certainly lend weight to his following words, however.

It’s clear to Amelie how much she’s worrying over nothing, and how she might have taken her aunt’s comment about ‘treating us as roommates’ slightly out of context. She came to New Orleans expecting… something different. Roberts women don’t seem wired to be up front with their affections and emotions, among other things. Her mother and Christina are—or were—very much alike in that way.

Still, the father’s words put a dent on the issue, or at least let it breathe.

“I should talk to her more about that. Thank you, Father. Maybe it’s just me misunderstanding her. I’ve not been here with her too long.”

GM: “Seaking with your aunt to understand her better would then seem only logical. As to your thoughts of violence, which you satisfied through fencing, the solution to this would seem self-evident.”

Amelie: Amelie nods again. “There are no reputable fencing schools in New Orleans, but I found something similar that will fill the void thankfully.”

GM: “Pursuing that alternative, too, would seem only logical, if there is no obstacle that makes you mention it alongside your other sins and dilemmas.”

Amelie: “It’s already in motion, thankfully. There is nothing in the way of my attending that I’m aware of.”

Amelie still feels a block in her stomach of things she could spill out, but she hangs on to them for now. There’s more pressing matters she could use help with after this, and she figures that asking about ghosts during confession may not be very polite.

GM: “As to your father attempting to strike you in anger, that is a grave sin. As was your response in doing the same. ‘See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.’ Your penance will be to deliver him an apology. Written or verbal, over whichever medium you find more convenient.”

Amelie: Amelie can almost hear her drunken twitching mess of a half-man father growling at her over the phone last week. Refusing to even speak to her in French. Silence is the only reply from her end of the partition for a moment as she wrestles with herself.

“Written would likely be easier,” is all she can finally manage, past the flurry of pride and hate in her gut that screams she owes him nothing.

GM: “Very good. Do you know the name of the girl in the group home whom you attacked?” the priest then inquires.

Amelie: “Not her real name, no. She used a nickname or a… street name, as she called it.”

GM: “I see. Call the group home in which you stayed. Find out her name and where she is now staying, if possible, and deliver her an apology for your actions as well.”

Amelie: Amelie’s gut is much more clear cut on this issue. It says NO. But the father is right that it’d make her the bigger person.

“I’ll try my best to find her. If they’ll give me the information, I’ll call her.”

GM: “As to the pickpocket you attacked, I believe you have already suffered an unjust, but nonetheless instructive consequence through being extorted by the policeman.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. There is really nothing to say for or against. “Yes, Father.”

GM: “You say it has been over four years since your last confession. I am sure it has also been a long time since you last said a rosary. Do that as well,” bids the unseen priest. “I will now hear your Act of Contrition.”

Amelie: Amelie nods to herself at the father’s request. She claws at her brain to remember the proper words translated from French to English.

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

GM: The unseen priest’s somber reply sounds through the booth’s grill.

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

There is a pregnant pause, as if the priest might be tracing the sign of the cross through the air.

Amelie: Amelie does not look to see if he is, but maintains her kneeling position and makes a mental list of what the things she needs to do to make right. This isn’t her first time taking confession, but she’s never done penance for any gods but herself. Soul or not, she knows from experience how it feels to scrub the slate you sit upon.

She takes a deep breath after several moments of silence and nods. “Thank you, Father. I was hoping I could take a bit more of your time as well, once we end our confession. If you aren’t busy. I need advice on a matter of spirit.”

GM: “You have been given penance and absolved of your sins,” the priest answers. Amelie hears the sounds of footsteps from just beyond the booth. “Confession is over, but I will give what advice I can.”

Amelie: Amelie follows the priest out of the booth. “I would like to hear your advice about ghosts. I’m going to be spending the night in the LaLaurie House and heard this cathedral was said to be haunted as well. I thought consulting the church on matters of protection from those not quite passed—but still quite wrathful, I hear—would be wise.”

GM: The priest frowns deeply. Perhaps at Amelie’s strange phraseology, perhaps at the topic of ghosts. “As Catholics, we believe in that which science tells us is unbelievable. We believe in the power of saints to perform miracles and to intercede on our behalf. We do not teach that souls, angry or otherwise, linger on earth after the deaths of their bodies. Any contact we have with the dead comes through the experience of faith, not the empirical channels employed by purported ‘scientists’ in pursuit of the paranormal. God alone has power to control and invoke the supernatural. Ghost hauntings are stories told for the entertainment of tourists and no more.”

Amelie: Amelie nods but doesn’t otherwise react to his statement. It’s a good quote to put in her paper.

“It’s for a paper I have to write for a class on the history of New Orleans, Father. I didn’t mean any offense. If that’s the official stance of you and the church, I can leave it at that. I’m happy to hear you haven’t been bothered or taken in by the trappings of tourist rumors, however. You must have more than a few people come to you asking about the ghost of Père Antoine.”

GM: “We do,” the priest answers. “We also see many self-proclaimed mediums, astrologers, tarot readers, psychics, and other spiritualists in the area around Jackson Square. If you were to ask them, they would purport to be able to establish contact with Père Antoine and countless other historical figures. If you would indeed like to know the church’s official dogma for your paper, we teach that all forms of divination are to be rejected. This includes recourse to Satan and demons, conjuring up the dead, and other practices falsely purported to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting palm readers, interpreting omens, an interest in clairvoyance—all of this conceals a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings. Belief in the supernatural contradicts the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. Spiritualism is hostile to all of the world’s religions, and the miracles attributed to Christ and the saints stand on a level high above all spiritic interpretation.”

“Was there further advice you wanted to ask of me, daughter?”

Amelie: Amelie nods. She remembers quite a few of those psychics in Jackson Square, but the bulk of her thoughts are on the priest. She’s never really seen someone so straightlaced working for the church before. But she shakes her head at his question.

“No, Father. I’ve taken up quite a bit of your time, thank you for seeing me.”

GM: Amelie takes her leave of the cathedral and makes her way down Jackson Square’s tourist-filled streets on the route back to the streetcar. When she pauses to adjust her loose backpack, though, a note card tumbles out.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her strides quick and wide as she resolves to ignore the people around her—unlike last time. Movement still catches her eye, however. She stoops to pick up the card.

GM: Amelie sees that the faded, coffee-stained piece of paper is actually a business card for a one ‘Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry.’ The back of the card contains a hand-written message:

Life insurance is overpriced, but life isn’t. See Tante before the slumber party at LaLaurie.

Amelie: Amelie looks up at the cathedral’s doors again. Someone had to have put this in her bag after listening in on her conversation with the priest. But no one was close enough to have done so. Or at least no one she remembers. The thought puts a chill up her spine as she slides the card into her pocket and resumes her walk towards the streetcar. She googles the name ‘Tante Lescaut’ on her phone as she does.

GM: Several results turn up for a store that sells occult-themed books and knick-knacks just off Royal Street. The store claims to have been founded during New Orleans’ colonial era and close to three hundred years old.

Amelie: Amelie pauses, looks at the address, and turns on her heel. She might as well confront these people right now. She watches her progress on her phone’s map as she makes her way towards the supposedly centuries-old shop. Maybe she can even catch whoever thinks scaring high schoolers is so funny just as they return to the storefront.

She’ll give them a piece of her mind.

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Story One, Amelie IV

“Being the new kid in any school is difficult. Being the new kid in a school like this is a nightmare.”
Amelie Savard

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.

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