“Everyone at McGehee succeeds. It’s a matter of pride. I know it is, certainly, to my aunt.”
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 emphasis on the word is thick. “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.
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.
Friday afternoon, 28 August 2015
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t waste any time and dials Amelie’s number.
Support: It’s answered on the second ring.
“Hello?” asks a low-sounding girl’s voice.
Caroline: “Ms. Savard?” she asks, in a somewhat clipped tone. Maybe it reminds the girl of her more entitled classmates. Hers has a finer edge. If they’re in process, this sounds closer to the finished product of what they’ll become.
Support: “Speaking. Can I help you?”
Caroline: “I rather suspect it’s the opposite,” she replies in an amused tone. “I heard you were asking about me.”
Support: “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?”
Support: “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.
She gives a light laugh after a moment.
“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.”
Support: “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.”
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.’
Support: “Did you attend McGehee, ma’am?”
Caroline: “You’re making me feel older than my mother. Caroline, please,” Caroline replies with a mild laugh. “But no, I went to St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge. Closer to the legislature for my father.”
Support: “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.
“You’re attending McGehee but have ‘a lot’ of experience?” she asks, amused.
Support: “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 qeeqle 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.
“It sound as though you’ve lived quite an interesting life,” she replies. “What brings you to New Orleans?”
Support: 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.
“That’s some aunt to secure you a place at McGehee,” she replies pleasantly.
Support: 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.<
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?
“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.”
Support: “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.
“So what kind of material are you, Amelie?”
Support: “More steel than satin.”
Caroline: “And yet it doesn’t sound like you’ve found them particularly soft or flexible,” Caroline muses.
Support: “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?”
Support: “Yes! Definitely, yes. That works perfectly for me.”
Caroline: “Excellent. Do you know where Avo is?”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.
Support: “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.”
Support: “Perfect. I’ll see you then! Have a great weekend.”
Caroline: “Until then,” Caroline replies, ending the call.
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
GM: Caroline drives down 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.
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 Caroline arrives. Attire is business casual. A smiling hostess greets and promptly escorts to the Malveaux scion to her table of choice.
Caroline: By the time Amelie arrives, 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.
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 heiress 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.
Support: Amelie is shorter than the Malveaux woman 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 dressed in business casual clothes: 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.
Support: 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. The Malveaux woman’s confidence in her movements has a visible edge over the post-adolescent’s, 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.
Support: Amelie listens intently, her eyes laser-focused on Caroline’s words. 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.
Support: “Pour danser dans un hall, vous devez d’abord avoir un pied dans la porte,” Amelie answers.
(“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 iced 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?”
Support: 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.
Support: Amelie 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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.
Support: 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.”
Support: 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.”
Support: Amelie listens and silently nods as Caroline lays things out.
“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 iced tea.
Caroline: “The Tuna and Orzo is to die for,” Caroline offers.
Support: 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.
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: 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.”
Support: Amelie’s smile on the other hand hasn’t changed, she keeps her pleasant expression on.
“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?”
Support: 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.”
Support: Amelie’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. She nods in response.
“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.”
Support: “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 iced 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.
Support: 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. She hums in approval with the first spoonful.
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?”
Support: Amelie nods and swallows 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?”
Support: “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.
Support: Amelie grins 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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “Because it isn’t very ladylike?”
Caroline: “We all have to play by the rules, Amelie.”
Support: “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?”
Support: “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?”
Support: 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.
Support: “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.”
Support: “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?”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: 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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.
Support: “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.”
Support: “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.”
Support: Amelie matches the smile and nods. “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.”