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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Charge 3: Point d'inflexion

by ElrodW

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Laird Hall Gymnasium

"Get up, Charge," Sensei Ito directed to the girl lying on the mat.

The girl on the mat looked up from her awkward position and glared at the instructor. "Why?" she grumbled. "There is no point, except to 'umiliate me further."

"That was only the first point," Ito reminded her. "You must win both of the remaining points to win the match."

"Merde," Charge, Adalie Vitesse, snapped. "She is a brick, and can throw me 'alfway across the gym if she so desires, while I can do nothing to 'er. There is no point, except for me to be 'urt!" Muttering under her breath, in French, Adalie dragged herself to her feet and re-entered the sparring circle.

Across the circle, Charge's opponent, Vipra, bore an anticipatory grin. She was several inches taller than Charge, and while quite attractively curvy, was nevertheless more solidly built. And she had a PK field which gave her significant strength and, more importantly for the sparring match, a built-in shield that Charge's blows couldn't penetrate.

Per the sparring ritual, the two girls bowed to each other, neither taking her eyes off of the opponent. While such wouldn't be permitted in the gym, it wasn't unheard of, in the real world, for sneak attacks to occur during such formalities.

"Hajime!" Ito barked to start the match.

Adalie used her speed to dart in to land a couple of quick strikes to her opponent before she could even begin to block the speedster, but she might as well have been a gnat trying to annoy an elephant, for all the good her strikes did. She waited for the block to inevitably occur, and when her adversary swept her arm up to block further blows, Adalie grasped Vipra's arm, twisting herself and making a quick foot-sweep against the girl's leg in the hope of upsetting her balance.

Adalie would have had more luck trying to kick over a mature tree. The PK field was unyielding, and as Adalie flinched from the pain of smacking her leg against an immovable object, Vipra used Adalie's own armhold against her, twisting slightly and wrenching on Adalie's arm until the poor French girl was sailing through the air to land with a sickening crunch far outside the circle. A loud string of profanities, all in French, announced the frustration and pain of the losing competitor.

"Yame!" Ito commanded the two adversaries to halt, even though it was obvious that Adalie had been quite thoroughly defeated. "Take your places at the edge of the mat," he further ordered.

Wincing with pain, Adalie pulled herself to her feet and, limping slightly, walked back to her place and knelt in the seiza position. "Stupid Americans and their stupid love of fighting," she mumbled under her breath, using French to hide her true sentiments. "It is all useless bullshit to satisfy a lust for violence!"

Ito glared at the girl. "Do you have something to say, Charge?" he demanded of Adalie.

Adalie gulped; she hadn't intended her comments to be heard by anyone else. "No, Sensei, she said quickly, looking down in embarrassment.

Ito nodded. "I didn't think so. Now, class, let's analyze the tactics." With smaller classes, as was common in basic martial arts in the spring term, he could take time to allow the students to evaluate the techniques and tactics each opponent used in the match. It added an opportunity for his students to learn.

Adalie sat for nearly ten minutes as one student after another ripped into her attempted tactics, none of which had made even the slightest of differences. Against a brick, she was doomed, she knew, and as the evaluations went on, she sat, sulking, hating having to take this stupid class.

As the students crossed the mats toward the locker rooms at the end of the class, Booker, one of the guys in class, called to her loudly enough that everyone would be able to hear. "Hey, Charge," he laughed, "I heard we're getting a new student tomorrow. Maybe it'll be someone that you can beat, so you won't be the weakest one in class!"

"Stupid piece of American shit!" Adalie swore at him, reverting to her native tongue. "I don't think you have a right to talk, since you'd lose a battle of wits to a radish and a piece of pottery, you fucking moron!"

Negator chuckled. "I don't know what she said," he said with a grin, "but it sure sounded pretty in that foreign language of hers!"

"I'm pretty sure she was trying to insult me," Booker guffawed. "But it lost something in the translation. I think she was asking if she could give me head!"

Screaming inwardly with her frustration at the students and the class, Adalie dashed into the locker room. As the other girls stripped, Adalie dashed through the showers and was already putting her school uniform on, anxious to get away from this disgusting class.

As she zipped out of the locker room, she nearly ran into Sensei Ito. "Slow down, Charge," he directed her. "I want to talk with you for a moment."

"Oui, Sensei?" Adalie replied, a scowl having formed on her otherwise pretty features.

"How much did you get from the other students' analyses of your fight?" Ito asked bluntly.

Adalie shrugged. "It was the usual stuff."

"So you _didn't_ listen, as usual?" Ito said, scowling.

"To learn more how to fight, when I have no desire, and see no need to fight?" Adalie asked sarcastically.

"Your mother and father want you to take this class so you can defend yourself," Ito countered.

"She is _not_ my mother!" Adalie screamed angrily and drawing the unwanted attention of those trickling out of the locker rooms. "She never will be! Don't ever say that she _is_ my mother!" Her face was unnaturally red with anger, and her pretty features clouded with fury.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know," Ito said, unwaveringly calm and rational. "Your father has directed that you take this class. It is your responsibility to learn."

"It is pointless! I cannot hope to defeat most of the powers I meet," Adalie complained bitterly. Slowly, the other students' attention drifted away from Charge's outburst, since they couldn't overhear any more of the conversation.

"You _can_ fight if you try," Ito said firmly, his face impassive. "You did fight to save Soeur Justice, did you not?"

Adalie lowered her defiant gaze. "Oui," she answered. "But that was different," she added quickly.

"No, it is no different. You fight when you need to, as you have proven. That doesn't make you predisposed toward violence."

"So you say," Adalie muttered. "I failed to save Soeur Justice. It was 'er PK field that saved 'er. I 'ave no ability to fight. Now if you are finished, I need to go back to my room to prepare for my next class."

"You need to go to Schuster Hall, to talk to Ms. Hartford," Ito said.

"Merde!" Adalie snapped. She hated Ms. Hartford, and she knew that the feeling was mutual.

"You better get going. You _know_ Ms. Hartford doesn't like to be kept waiting," Ito directed.

Adalie lived up to her surname, Vitesse, by sprinting at an unnatural speed out the door and down the walkway from Laird Hall to the main office and classroom building. She was already used to dodging people, and at a school for mutants, the faculty and staff were used to the presence of speedsters of various types darting through crowds like jackrabbits on amphetamines. She slowed down to what seemed a crawl to her, but was a quick-step, as she entered Schuster. Unlike some mutants gifted with super-speed, Adalie was perfectly comfortable operating at the same pace as normal humans. She found it made people much more comfortable to not dash about madly, showing off her quickness.

Adalie barely stepped through the frosted-glass door into the administration wing when the secretary, Elaine Claire, looked up from her computer. "Ah, Adalie. Ms. Hartford is expecting you."

Adalie winced; she expected trouble every time she talked to the administration. She didn't realize that much of the animosity she felt was entirely due to her own foolish actions and belligerent attitude. "Do you know what she wants of me?" she asked the secretary.

"No, Ms. Vitesse, she doesn't," Amelia Hartford's voice sounded sternly from the assistant headmistress' desk, making Adalie cringe. Ms. Hartford was well-known as a very unpleasant woman who also held grudges.

Adalie scooted over to Ms. Hartford's desk and stood uneasily. She couldn't help but think about the stern woman, who possibly could have been attractive if she wore fashionable clothing instead of expensive but totally boring suits, and if she spent more than thirty seconds with her makeup. The librarian's bun and the extremely old-fashioned and unflattering glasses completed her appearance as an unpleasant _young_ battleaxe, a single and very unhappy woman who appeared and acted as if she considered it a major accomplishment to make others feel as unhappy as herself.

"Have a seat, Ms. Vitesse," the assistant headmistress ordered.

"Oui, Madame," Adalie said meekly, slipping into a chair before Ms. Hartford's little empire.

"We received a call from the French Consulate in Boston," Ms. Hardford said.

"I see. And how does this involve me?" Adalie asked hesitantly.

"The call very specifically requested your presence for a meeting with one of the consul staff Sunday morning. The consulate is paying for your travel, and arrangements have been made for your lodging with your Aunt Lecuyer." Ms. Hartford handed a sheet of paper with the trip specifics to Adalie. "You are to leave Saturday morning on the early train from Berlin, and return Sunday evening, so that you will have some time for sightseeing or shopping, at your pleasure."

Adalie thought fast; even though she was relatively certain that her Aunt Teri was involved in one way or another, she couldn't help but wonder why the French Foreign Ministry would ask for her. Surely they were too busy to know her from any of the other French nationals strewn about the New England countryside. Unless .... She felt the icy hand of fear suddenly gripping her by the throat; was this meeting in some way related to her misadventure with the French MCO and the trial the previous summer? She knew the Ministry of Justice had taken great interest in her kidnapping by the French MCO; did they want more from her on that case?

"Given the diplomatic nature of the ... request," Ms. Hartford sounded like she was saying something distasteful, "we are allowing you to travel, but you will need to find a junior or senior to chaperone your trip. We will, of course, have the right to disapprove your chaperone."

"Oui, Madame." Adalie understood only too clearly that she was to find someone the administration would find acceptable.

"That's all." Ms. Hartford turned back toward her computer dismissively, indicating that the brief meeting was over.

Confused, Adalie rose from the chair and walked out of the building, puzzling over the request. It wasn't like her Aunt Teri to make a formal request. Instead, she would have just called Adalie, and she definitely would have informed the girl of the purpose of the call or visit. Aunt Teri was not one for mystery; hence, she worked in the Foreign Affairs ministry, which bureaucratically hated surprises and mystery. It fit her temperament well. And that made the enigmatic request even more puzzling.

Thursday, March 15, 2007 - Evening
Melville Cottage

"Yes," Adalie complained into the phone, "I _know_ you have a Golden Kids meeting tonight, Donza. But I really need to talk to you as soon as possible, and it shouldn't take but a moment of your time." She paused a few seconds. "Can you please just stop by my room for a moment?" She was flustered at having to ask for a favor, especially in front of her roommate Alicia.

"Thank you," Adalie said after another brief pause. "I'll see you in a couple of minutes. Bye." She hung up the phone.

"Y'all got a problem?" Alicia asked as soon as Adalie was off the phone.

"Per'aps," Adalie replied. "I don't know. I 'ave been asked to go to the consular office in Boston this weekend."

"That sounds like fun. What's goin' on?"

Adalie cringed. "I don't know," she replied. "I guess we shall find out when we get there."

Alicia's eyes widened. "We?" She grinned. "Ah've never been to Boston. Ah hear it's a neat city, and it's got a lot of history!"

Adalie's goggled, realizing what she'd done. "I didn't mean ...." A knock on the door interrupted her. With one more glance at her excited roommate, Adalie opened the door.

"You said this would be quick," the girl in the doorway said.

"Oui," Adalie said. "Come in for a moment."

Alicia walked boldly up to the new girl as she entered the room. "Hah!" she said in her annoying southern Cajun accent. "Ah'm Alicia, or Headrush." She stuck out her hand to shake.

The new girl looked at her warily, but shook hands after a moment. "Aldonsa Theresa-Patrido De La Bosque y Galvan, but I go by Donza," she said. "I'm also called Automa-Tech." She had a definite accent, and Alicia guessed it was Spanish. Automa-Tech was of average height, with a figure that, by Whateley standards, was average. Her wavy black hair hanging just past her shoulders framed her face, which was dominated by her large, soft, brown eyes that were enchanting pools inviting male adoration, and lips that begged to be kissed. Because of her Golden Kids meeting, she wasn't wearing her labcoat for a change, but was instead fashionably attired in a clingy LBD that emphasized her every curve.

Alicia's eyes lit up. "Ah've heard of you. You're one of the brainy gadgeteer types, aren't you?"

"Yes," Automa-Tech answered. "It runs in the family. My father founded Vida Mejor Tecnologias."

"Wow!" Alicia said, goggling. "Ah've heard of that company. It's some really big, hot-shot technical company, isn't it? Everythin' from bio-technologies to nano-electronics! Wow! Ya must be a gazillionaire!" She grinned. "Compared to ya, mah family is dirt poor! Mah folks only have a couple hundred millions from oil and gas on our bayou land."

"I'm sure that's nice," Donza said quickly, "but as I'm late for a meeting, can you please get to the point?"

Before Adalie could say anything, Alicia spoke up. "Adalie was just telling me about our trip to Boston this weekend, so Ah suspect it's somethin' t' do with that!'

Adalie's eyes lit up with dismay at Alicia's words. "I was telling Alicia that I need to go to the French Consulate in Boston for a meeting this weekend, and according to the administration, I need an upperclassman as a chaperone."

"It's goin' t' be a blast!" Alicia said enthusiastically. "Ah've never been there, but there are lot of historical stuff to see there, like the church Paul Revere had the lanterns in and stuff! We're goin' t' have a great time!"

"Alicia," Adalie tried to rein in her roommate's enthusiasm.

"Oh, and there's a monument for the battle of Bunker Hill," Alicia continued to rant.

"Alicia!"

"And Paul Revere's house, and the Boston Commons, and ...."

"Alicia," Adalie said forcefully, "the trip isn't final yet, and, well, you were not invited."

Alicia's eyes widened, and then her expression fell. "Oh. Ah guess Ah misunderstood," she said awkwardly. "Ah thought ya said _we_ were goin'." She turned quickly from the other two and after gathering her books, walked to the door. "Ah'm goin' t' the library t' study, Ah guess," she said without looking at her roommate or Automa-Tech, so they wouldn't see her crestfallen expression.

"She is an enthusiastic girl," Donza said after the door closed behind Alicia, "but I think she misunderstood you."

"Oui," Adalie replied. "She frequently leaps to conclusions."

"You might want to talk to her about this," Donza observed dispassionately. She knew better than to try to tell Adalie to do something. "I think she took your rejection rather poorly."

"She'll get over it," Adalie said. "She'll realize that she jumped to a conclusion, and made a mistake."

Donza shook her head. "You should apologize anyway," she cautioned her fellow Beret member. "She seemed hurt."

"Oui, oui," Adalie said dismissively. "Now, about chaperoning the trip?"

Donza thought for a moment. "I think a break from campus would be a good thing," she said. "If the administration agrees, I'll go with you."

"Good!" Adalie said eagerly. "I'll tell the administration first thing in the morning. We will take the early train on Saturday morning.

Friday, March 19, 2007
Melville Cottage

Adalie rolled over again when her alarm sounded, feeling quite exhausted. She hadn't slept well at all, and she didn't quite understand why. Perhaps it was nerves about the trip, and the uncertainty as to its purpose. And perhaps it was the recurrent dream, where Alicia _was_ with Adalie on the trip, and did _something_ important. Adalie glanced across the room to Alicia's bed, and saw that it was neatly made, which meant that Alicia had already showered and dressed. That realization caused Adalie's a little discomfort, although she didn't quite know why.

She realized, belatedly, that Donza - Automa-Tech - had been correct; she'd hurt her roommate's feelings when she'd very bluntly told Alicia that she wasn't invited. Though they'd only been roommates for a couple of weeks, Adalie knew that Alicia didn't stay up late - at least, not until the previous evening. Adalie had been asleep when Alicia finally came back to their room, and Alicia had arisen and departed before Adalie even woke up.

In Crystal Hall, Adalie gathered her breakfast and went to the Beret table, where the girls were excitedly speculating about the upcoming trip. No sooner did Adalie sit down than she was bombarded with questions. Yes, she was going. Yes, Automa-Tech was chaperoning. No, she had no idea what it was about. Yes, it was at the request of the French Consulate. How the hell had someone heard that rumor, when Adalie hadn't told anyone? Yes, Alicia had sort-of invited herself, but no, she wasn't going.

The last one made Adalie feel bad again. She remembered only too clearly the disappointed, hurt expression on Alicia's face when she'd abruptly left their room the previous evening. Without warning, Adalie stood suddenly and left the Beret's table, leaving her half-eaten food on a tray behind her. With the others watching, surprised, Adalie walked to the Underdogs' table, and directly to Alicia.

"Alicia," Adalie said as she approached her roommate.

"Mornin'," Alicia said, but her greeting lacked warmth.

"Can we talk?"

Alicia thought a brief second. "Yeah, Ah suppose." She gestured to an open seat.

"Per'aps more privately?"

"Yeah." She glanced around at the other Underdogs. "Don't let nobody mess with mah food." Alicia rose and followed Adalie down the stairs and out of Crystal Hall.

Adalie stopped and turned to her roommate. "I wanted to begin by saying that I'm sorry," she said awkwardly. "I ... I didn't mean to make you think that you'd been invited."

Alicia shook her head. "It was mah fault. Ah kinda jumped to a conclusion." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Why are ya worryin' about it?"

Adalie winced; her roommate's comment was fair. "I ... I was thinking of 'ow you've been 'elping me this term, and per'aps I 'ave been taking it for granted." She forced a smile. "Except for your taste in music."

Alicia frowned, but one could tell she wasn't serious. "What's wrong with zydeco?"

"Nothing," Adalie chuckled, "if you like the sound of wolves disemboweling a live cat while apes beat sticks against a tree!"

Alicia looked thunderstruck, and then she grinned wryly. "It's better than depressin' black and white movies with borin' plots and awful subtitles!"

"Those are _good_ movies!" Adalie countered, before she noticed the grin on her roommate's face. "I suppose that's only fair," she admitted. "I checked with Ms. 'Artford, and my Aunt Teri, and I thought that per'aps you would enjoy a trip to Boston this weekend."

Alicia's eyes narrowed. "Y'all aren't askin' me outta pity, are ya?" she said with a frown. "Because Ah don't want ya thinkin' ya have to take pity on me."

"Non," Adalie said quickly, "it's not because I pity you. I ... 'ave a strong feeling that you are supposed to be on this trip." She looked down. "And ... I ... sometimes I feel ... a little bit ... alone." She looked back at Alicia, her eyes misting. "You aren't one of those who make fun of me for my combat final, or for getting moved out of Dickinson, or when I am so easily beaten in martial arts. You 'elp me with the classes we share."

"Are ya sayin' that we're friends?" Alicia asked with a broad grin.

Adalie thought a moment, and then looked down again. "Oui," she said softly. "I think that you are ma amie."

Alicia wrapped Adalie in a bear hug. "And you are ma amie," she said with a big grin. "And we're goin' t' have a _great_ time in Boston!" She released Adalie. "There's one thing, though."

"What's that?" Adalie asked warily.

"Mah parents. Y'all will have t' ask them if Ah can go with ya. They're awful protective about me sometimes."

"Okay."

"Ah can all them right now, if ya don't mind," Alicia said eagerly. "They always get up early anyway." When Adalie didn't object, Alicia got out her phone and quickly dialed a number. "Mornin', Ma!" she said eagerly into the phone. "It's me, Alicia!" She paused a few seconds. "Mah roommate wants me t' go t' Boston with her this weekend," she said eagerly. "Can Ah go? Please?" There was another pause. "Yeah, that's her." She paused, and then handed the phone to Adalie. "She wants t' talk t' ya."

"Good morning, Madame Thacker," Adalie said cautiously.

"Alicia tells me y'all are from France," Mrs. Thacker replied.

"Oui, Madame," Adalie answered, getting a sense of dread.

"Marvelous!" Mrs. Thacker practically yelled in Cajun-accented French. "Pa, it's that French girl that's Alicia's roommate. I put her on the speaker so y'all can say 'hi'." Like Alicia, her mom liberally sprinkled Southern-isms like "y'all" in her stream of French.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Thacker," Adalie said cautiously.

"Bonjour, little lady," Alicia's dad boomed enthusiastically. "It's nice to finally get to talk with y'all," he said. "Ally talks about you all the time. Ah'm so glad my little girl has got such a good friend at school. You know, she really was lonely last fall." There was no doubt where Alicia got her atrocious French accent.

"She's a very interesting roommate," Adalie said, to which Alicia snickered.

Alicia's dad roared with laughter. "Her sister probably wouldn't agree with y'all!"

"I am going to Boston this weekend," Adalie tried to get on subject; if she didn't, she feared that she'd be talking to Alicia's parents for a very long time, "and I've invited Alicia, but she said she needs your permission first."

"Boston? Isn't that kind of a big city for two girls?"

"My Aunt Teri works in the French Consulate office there," Adalie reassured the man, "so we won't be alone. And the school will not let us travel unless we have an older student as an escort."

"Oh, in that case, y'all have a good time! Maybe y'all will get to go to some fancy diplomatic shin-dig with your aunt!"

Adalie groaned. "Maybe. Alicia and I have to get to classes now, Monsieur Thacker."

"Ah suppose Ah should let y'all get, then," Alicia's dad said, switching back to his Cajun-accented English. "Can I talk t' my little girl for a bit?"

Adalie handed the phone back to Alicia. "Your father wants to talk to you."

Alicia took the phone eagerly and listened. "Uh, huh. Yes, papa, Ah'll be careful. Ah know nothin' bad'll happen." She listened a few seconds. "Uh, huh, Ah'll ask her. We gotta run t' classes. Bye!" She hung up.

Adalie had a sinking feeling based on how Alicia was looking at her. "What?"

"Ah think they really like ya," Alicia grinned. "They told me t' ask ya if ya wanted t' visit some time we have a long weekend." She saw her roommate's eyes widen, and presumed that she knew the reason for Adalie's concern. "Ah, don't worry. Mah folks are loaded. "

Adalie resisted the overwhelming urge to face-palm. Alicia didn't know the reason she looked horrified. The thought of spending a few days with such enthusiastic folks who loved bad music, like Alicia, and who would no doubt take the opportunity to regale her with their truly awful French accent while zydeco music played endlessly in the background, sent shivers of dread coursing up and down Adalie's spine.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Whoever had made the arrangements must have known that Adalie, Alicia, and Donza weren't able to leave Friday evening; by the time they got out of classes, they would have had a total of five minutes to get their luggage, get to the school shuttle, and then get to the train station in Dunwich - a truly impossible feat. Instead, Adalie had to deal with an evening and night with a hyper-active, anticipatory roommate who'd probably seldom traveled to any city larger than Baton Rouge. Or perhaps New Orleans. Adalie was tempted to take something to sleep, to shut off her brain from the excited chattering of Alicia as the girl gabbed about what she could do and see in Boston while she browsed the internet, seeking information from a Boston tourist website. This, naturally, led her to an attempt to see how much they could cram into a day and a half of sightseeing and shopping. That resulted in a call home to Alicia's parents to consult about how much she could spend shopping, which in turn resulted in Alicia's parents wanting to chat with Adalie - in their Cajun French - because she was Alicia's friend.

At five-thirty in the morning, the girls met a shuttle bus outside Melville, which was long before the cafeteria opened, and then caught the early morning train to Boston. For breakfast, they had to settle for stale pastries from a small lunch counter in what used to be a dining car. While Adalie found the pastries tasteless and dry, almost to the point of being inedible, Alicia eagerly ate her share, and then finished the portion that Adalie was going to toss in the garbage.

As the train neared the Boston station, an independent observer, told only that there were three mutant girls, one of whom was a speedster, would have guessed, from the way Alicia was bouncing around the seats, that _she_ was the speedster. The observer would have been incorrect, even though his supposition would have been accurate. Alicia was more than a little excited by the trip and was as restless as a three-year-old. Adalie, though, was more pensive, having a sense of impending doom. Something bad was going to happen; she could just _feel_ it. And for some reason, Alicia's presence was required, which meant that Adalie had to suffer through her excited babbling about what they could do in Boston, and how much more history it had than Baton Rouge, and of course, where they could go shopping.

Just after ten-thirty, the girls disembarked from the train, walking casually through the frantic crowds, and into the North Station. Alicia was gawking about like a tourist, while Donza smirked at the girl's naove country ways, and Adalie scanned the crowds.

"Adalie!" a woman's voice called out, barely audible above the background roar of the people filing through the station. "Adalie!"

Adalie spun toward the noise, and a broad grin broke across her features. "Aunt Teri!" she called. She clutched Alicia's hand, since the girl was barely even looking where she was going, and led her two travel-mates toward her aunt.

"Adalie, it is so good to see you again!" Aunt Teri practically sang. Her enthusiastic voice was matched by the smile on her face as she wrapped her arms around her niece. "How are things at school?" Aunt Teri was a striking woman - for a baseline - with classic Gallic features and a short but sophisticated hairstyle. Even on a Saturday, she wore fashionable clothing that perfectly suited her slender figure and above-average height; her outfit wouldn't have been out of place at her office in the consulate, and as such, contrasted sharply with most of the crowd around them in casual clothing.

Adalie suddenly remembered her manners. "Aunt Teri, these are my friends. Alicia Thacker is my room-mate, and we share many classes, including martial arts."

The smile was replaced by shock. "You are taking martial arts?" Aunt Teri gasped.

"Oui. It is a requirement after a rather ... disastrous combat final last fall," Adalie admitted.

"Combat finals? Incroyable! That's so typically American - so utterly barbaric!" Aunt Teri shook her head. "Why did you not call Jacques to get this all straightened out? Surely if 'e doesn't want you ...."

"I tried," Adalie replied, her voice resigned. "The administration called him first, though, and reminded him that the world isn't very friendly to ... people like us, and that the curriculum is designed to help us survive."

"It still sounds so ... awful!" She turned back to Adalie and recomposed her expression, wiping the horrified look she'd had moments earlier. "Alicia? Charmed," Aunt Teri said as she gave Alicia a quick embrace. "I'm Therese Lecuyer, Adalie's aunt. 'Ow long have you known Adalie?"

"We just started roomin' t'gether at the start of this term," Adalie replied in her heavy accent. "She's getting better in martial arts, too. We help each other a lot."

Aunt Teri avoided visibly cringing - almost. "Oh? You speak ... French? Very few Americans speak it, and with ... such an interesting ... accent."

"Oui, Aunt Teri," Adalie interjected quickly. "Alicia is from Louisiana, where many of the residents speak a dialect of French."

"How ... interesting," Aunt Teri said, using all of her diplomatic skills.

Donza didn't wait for Adalie to introduce her. "I am Aldonsa Theresa-Patrido De La Bosque y Galvan."

Aunt Teri gave her a brief hug as well.

Adalie chimed in a little background information, figuring that Donza would be too modest, but that Aunt Teri had to know with whom she was dealing - just in case. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was always a good idea to know who the movers and shakers were. "Donza's father Jose Mario Galvan is the founder of Vida Mejor Tecnologias." She saw Aunt Teri's eyes widen almost imperceptibly, signaling that the woman understood who Donza's family was, and she filed the data away in case she ever needed it.

"And my mother, Candida Gabriela Elena de Bosque is the chief financial officer of the firm," Donza added with a bit of pride.

"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance," Aunt Teri said, carefully not displaying any more enthusiasm than she had toward Alicia. "If you all have your bags, I have a car waiting."

"Aunt Teri," Adalie interrupted as the group strolled through the crowded station, "what is this all about?"

"I wish I knew," Aunt Teri said with a shrug. "All I was told was to ensure that you are 'ere for a meeting tomorrow."

"By whom?"

Aunt Teri shrugged again. "I don't know. I got my direction from my superior." She stepped briskly toward a large, long black car. "Ah, 'ere we are. Francois will take care of your bags," she said to the girls and to the nattily-attired gentleman who had opened the rear door for the ladies. She grinned at the girls. "'E really goes by Frankie, and 'e's Italian-American, but we like to tease him and call 'im Francois."

"Now, is there anything that you would like to do while you're 'ere?" Aunt Teri asked after they'd settled into their seats, the four of them comfortable in what was really a small limousine.

"Ah found a few things that we could do," Alicia said quickly. "Some sites and museums Ah learned about in history class last term."

Aunt Teri nodded. "You 'ad a long trip. Per'aps we should start with some lunch? And Adalie, if I know you, you don't have a dress suitable for tonight's formal affair."

"Formal affair ... tonight?" Adalie croaked. "I wasn't told anything about a formal affair."

"Well, it wasn't on the itinerary," Aunt Teri said with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "but since you are 'ere, the Consul General asked that you come as 'is guests," she added quickly, making it abundantly clear that this was a formal diplomatic event.

Adalie exchanged glances with Alicia and Donza. "I ... I don't really 'ave anything formal," she said with a wince.

"Neither do Ah," Alicia added.

Donza smiled smugly. "And of course, you fresh-things aren't prepared, are you? Unlike you, I, a senior, am quite prepared for just about anything."

Aunt Teri pushed a button on a panel. "Francois, please take us to Copley Place. We need to get some lunch, and the girls 'ave some shopping to do."

Copley Place, Boston

The complex medley of flavors tantalized Adalie's senses as she slowly savored the thick soup. "This is ... as good as anything Chef Daphne ever made," she said in astonishment.

"Legal Seafood is the only restaurant that has ever served clam chowder for a presidential inauguration," Aunt Teri replied. "It isn't necessarily the best seafood restaurant in toto, but many say they 'ave the best chowder in the world."

"Ah'd tend to agree with that," Alicia said, almost purring contentedly. "It's nothin' like good Cajun gumbo, though, but it's right up there."

"I am surprised you can even taste it after torturing your mouth for so long with vast quantities of your cayenne pepper," Adalie smirked.

"Everythin' tastes better with some good seasoning," Alicia said defensively, pausing to stick her tongue out at Adalie before giggling.

"I 'ave 'eard that you even put that ... stuff ... on your breakfast cereal - if that's what grits really is!" Adalie continued to tease.

"Hey, that's ...." Alicia stopped, suddenly thinking. "Nah, Ah don't think that'd work. Grits is supposed to be creamy and just a touch sweet, not spicy."

Adalie turned to her aunt. "Alicia even tortured us," she glanced at Donza, who had been one of the Berets that had been lured, or trapped, into dining at Alicia's crawfish boil, "with ecrevisses and crevettes, boiled with potatoes and mais and far too much spicy pepper!"

Donza nodded. "But it wasn't _that_ spicy," she countered.

"Even the dish with rice and beans " Adalie started to complain.

"Red beans 'n rice," Alicia corrected her.

"Even _that_ was too spicy."

"Ah don't suppose you'd be wantin' ta spice up your soup, would ya?" Alicia said, grinning wickedly as she pulled a small bottle of Tabasco sauce from her purse.

"Mon dieu!" Adalie exclaimed, her eyes wide with shock. "Put that away, before the gendarmes come to take it away as a terror weapon!"

Chuckling to herself, Alicia slipped the bottle back into her purse. "Next time ya aren't fightin' so well in Sensei Ito's class, Ah can let him know how frightened y'all are of a little bottle o' hot sauce!" Her grin was practically ear-to-ear.

Adalie groaned; she knew that Alicia _would_ tell their Sensei's about the hot sauce. It was time to change the subject. "What time is the gathering tonight?"

"Dinner will be at nine, with cocktails before-hand. You will want to be there by eight," Aunt Teri explained.

"Well, why don't we hurry up eatin' and shoppin', so we can see some o' the local history?" Alicia suggested eagerly.

Aunt Teri laughed. "I assume that you've never shopped with Adalie? She is rather ... thorough ... in comparing styles, sizes, and colors."

"I can't 'elp it if I'm a thorough shopper," Adalie feigned a complaint.

"You girls enjoy your afternoon," Aunt Teri said as she rose from her seat. "I 'ave much to do to finish preparations for the evening, so I will not be joining you for the afternoon. Francois and the car are at your disposal, and he knows where my apartment is when it's time to get ready." She handed a key to Adalie. "'ere's my spare key for the apartment."

Adalie rose, taking the key, and then she embraced her aunt and the two kissed each other's cheeks. "If I need anything, I'll call," she assured her aunt.

Aunt Teri paused and reached into her purse. "I almost forgot. 'Ere's a charge card to use for your dresses. Since this _is_ a diplomatic function and it was added to the schedule, the Consul General authorized some funds so you would be properly attired." She handed a card to Adalie. "But only your dresses. If you get carried away ...." She left the threat hanging, not that she thought she'd have to threaten her niece.

Adalie nodded. "Oui, Aunt Teri," she replied. "We will be thrifty."

"Just don't look like street urchins!" Aunt Teri added with a smile. "Now, go 'ave fun!"

As soon as Aunt Teri was out of the restaurant, Adalie grinned wickedly at her cohort. "I think we were just ordered to 'ave fun shopping."

The clerks at Neiman Marcus weren't quite used to three teenagers shopping in their high-end departments, but when one of them was shown the diplomatic card, they became quite courteous. Their willingness to help increased markedly when, after being eyed skeptically, Donza showed them her platinum card, and the staff realized that she was from _that_ Bosque y Galvan family.

After the girls selected their dresses, they naturally had to get shoes to match, which led to handbags. But no outfit would be complete without a little bit of jewelry, so they had fun selecting a few accessories for their outfits.

As the total rang up, Adalie winced. "Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed softly. "Aunt Teri and the Consul General are going to _kill_ me for spending so much!"

Donza glanced at her, and then held out her hand. "Let me see the card," she said, rummaging in her purse with her other hand.

Puzzled, Adalie gave Donza the card, who put it beside some gadget that she'd had in her purse. "Hmmm," she said, looking at the gadget's display. "I don't think we need to worry," she said, handing the card back to Adalie.

"Why not?" Alicia beat Adalie to the punch with the obvious question.

"Simple," Donza replied, smiling. "The card is coded for how much can be spent _today_." She held up the instrument for Adalie to see. "Even with all of this, we're still almost four hundred dollars below what they coded for an allowance."

"And ... if we spend too much?" Adalie asked cautiously.

"With that type of smart-card," Donza replied confidently, "the consulate would be contacted to authorize the expense. Which means that your Aunt Teri would know that you didn't listen to her!"

"Four hundred dollars, huh?" Adalie asked, staring into the distance. She looked at Alicia. "What are you thinking?"

Alicia grinned. "Perfume and makeup!"

Adalie nodded, a broad smile on her face. "Precisement!"

Behind them, Frankie stood silently, shaking his head. 'Girls!' he thought to himself. 'Always spending so much time and money shopping!' Then he thought of his two daughters, six and five years old. 'I hope they don't learn this kind of bad habit, or I'll have to work until I'm eighty to pay off the debts!'

After nearly three hours of shopping, which included a stop at a confectioner for some 'treats' for friends back at school, the girls - mostly Alicia - directed Francois to a variety of historical sites in what would be a whirlwind tour.

Paul Revere's house was small - "quaint" as Adalie put it, while her comment about the Old North Church was that it couldn't hold a candle to the Notre Dame Cathedral, or the great cathedrals of Reims or Tours or Rouen. It was "cozy", and entirely too small, and the private little family 'stalls' were, in her opinion, quite rude and unsociable. Faneuil Hall was 'unimpressive' and boring, while the site of the Boston Massacre drew an uninterested 'meh!'

At the Bunker Hill memorial, Adalie seemed a little more impressed with the view from the top of the granite monument. "It is okay, I suppose."

Alicia had her fill of Adalie's attitude. "What part of our history _does_ impress you?" she demanded, scowling with her arms crossed in front of her. "If anythin'?"

Adalie shrugged. "American 'istory is so ... new! France has thousands of years of 'istory! The great cathedrals are 'undreds of years older than that creaky little church!"

"Well, excuse me for our country not being as old as France!" Alicia snorted.

Adalie flinched from her room-mate's reaction. "Non," she said to defuse the angry situation, "it's not that American 'istory is boring. It's just that in France, our 'istory is so much longer that we've gotten used to it. In comparison, this almost seems like ... modern events."

"Oh," Alicia said, trying to see things from Adalie's perspective. She thought a moment. "Ah suppose Ah might feel like that, too."

"After touring France, you'll see the difference," Adalie said, and no sooner had the words left her mouth than she realized just _what_ she'd inadvertently done. Perhaps Alicia hadn't picked up on her precise wording.

"That's gonna be so cool!" Alicia said, beaming. "This summer, after y'all visit Loosiana, we'll fly to France and see _your_ home!" Practically giggling with happiness, she turned to go down the stairs, so they could continue their sight-seeing tour.

A few steps behind Alicia, Donza chuckled as Adalie face-palmed and muttered, over and over, "Merde."

The trio walked, chatting happily, toward the old navy shipyard where the USS Constitution was moored, enjoying the crisp early-spring air on a pleasant March Saturday afternoon. It was a short walk, and since it was nice weather and navigating the limo through the traffic and streets was a challenge, the girls had agreed to meet the limo at the ship.

Without warning, Adalie felt an unexpected shove as someone ran into her. She turned reflexively toward the person who'd bumped into her, and a fraction of a second later, her purse was ripped from her hands from another direction.

"Alicia," Adalie cried aloud, "they stole my purse!"

Before Alicia could react, Donza dashed after the one who had caused the distraction, while Adalie turned and angrily sped after the perpetrator who'd actually taken the purse. The poor perpetrator had no chance against a speedster; Adalie caught him within thirty yards, grabbing his arm, which spun him around into a knee that she brought up sharply. Before he could fall, she hit him twice, and then flipped him over her hip face-first into the ground, and put her knee into the small of his back as she twisted his arm painfully to where she was about to dislocate it. "Stupid asshole!" she swore at him angrily as the poor guy writhed in agony. "Idiotic piece of shit! You think you can steal _my_ purse?"

Behind her, Donza tackled the accomplice, and once he was down, she took something off her belt and slapped it on the guy's neck. Instantly, the guy completely collapsed, unable to move a single muscle. Satisfied, Donza picked up the limp would-be robber, and dragged him roughly to where Alicia stood, her cell phone at her ear. Dropping the guy unceremoniously at her feet, Donza walked casually, whistling cheerfully, to where Adalie held the purse-snatcher. Again, she took a gadget from her belt and slapped it on the guy's neck.

"What is that?" Adalie asked about the little gadget as the guy collapsed, all resistance crumbling in an instant.

"A little thing I made. It interferes with nerve signals to the arms and legs, so the person it is attached to is completely helpless," Donza explained.

"That sounds quite useful," Adalie noted as she retrieved her purse and stood. A quick examination revealed that the perp hadn't had time to take anything out of the handbag. "Good," she snapped to the immobile thief. "You didn't 'ave time enough to even mess up my purse!" With Donza's help, Adalie dragged the thief back to Alicia.

"The police are on their way," Alicia reported. "What did y'all do to them?"

"A neural inhibitor," Donza replied. "With a self-adhesive patch so it won't fall off. My father's company is going to market them to police and security for controlling violent prisoners."

"I 'ope the police respond promptly," Adalie said, tapping her foot impatiently, glancing at her watch and then looking around. "I don't want to be late to meet Francois so we can be at the reception in time."

Several minutes later, two police officers walked briskly to the three girls, shaking their heads when they saw the girls chatting away happily while the two would-be robbers lay on the ground at their feet. Naturally, a crowd had gathered, becoming more numerous when the police arrived.

A burly sergeant marched directly to Donza, as she appeared to be the oldest. "I'm Sergeant O'Malley. We had a report of a purse-snatching."

"Yes," Donza replied. "These ...."

"These stupides idiots tried to steal my purse!" Adalie interrupted angrily.

The burly sergeant glowered at her. "We'll get to you in a moment." He looked at the perps. "Frank, check the gentlemen on the ground. Ladies, if you would please separate by a few paces, I'll get initial statements from you individually."

Adalie fretted while the sergeant questioned Donza. She was the intended victim; she should have been questioned first, at least to her thinking.

Tony, the officer looking over the perps, glanced up at the sergeant. "Sean, these guys aren't moving at all." He looked at the girls. "What did you do?" he asked suspiciously.

Donza smiled. "I applied a neural inhibitor to their necks to immobilize them."

"A _what_?"

"It is a little thing I invented. My papa's company will be producing them for police and security forces, hopefully starting later this year. The device inhibits motor nerve impulses, rendering the subject unable to move."

"_You_ invented ...?" the sergeant, who was questioning Donza looked at her with narrowed eyes. "You should probably turn them off."

Donza smiled sweetly before squatting beside the perps and touching the gadgets on their necks. Instantly, the two had a few spasms of motion before they began to move normally. She then removed them; the adhesive tore off hair from the napes of their necks, causing them to scream in pain as if they'd had spot waxings on their necks.

"We'll have to keep those as evidence," O'Malley said with a scowl.

"Of course," Donza agreed, handing her inventions to Officer Tony.

After cuffing the two suspects, Tony moved to Adalie. "I need to examine your purse," he directed. Reluctantly, Adalie handed the purse to the officer. He pulled on a pair of latex gloves, and began to gingerly examine the contents. Adalie blushed furiously when he removed her 'emergency' sanitary pad. Eventually, though, he got to the card Aunt Teri had given her. He scowled as he looked at it.

"Is this a diplomatic charge card?" he asked Adalie.

"Oui," Adalie replied. "Yes, it is. We are with the French Consul General's party."

"Oh, shit!" Officer Tony swore, shaking his head softly. "Sean, we've got a potential diplomatic situation." He thumbed the radio at his waist, speaking into the microphone at his shoulder. "Dispatch, Officer Fitzsimmons. We're bringing in parties associated with an attempted purse snatching. Contact the French consulate and have them send a representative to the station."

"But ... we 'ave to get ready for a party at the consulate in a few 'ours!" Adalie protested. "Our driver is expecting us at the navy ship very shortly!"

"The Constitution," Alicia said to explain Adalie's words. "Ah'm the one who wanted to see historical sites," she added proudly.

"Sorry, ma'am," Officer Tony said. "Procedures." He walked over to the sergeant. "These guys have several priors."

"Hopefully, this'll be easy," O'Malley answered. "I'm finished with your preliminary statement," he said to Donza before he took a few steps to Alicia.

Adalie fumed. _She_ was the intended victim, and _she_ was being questioned last. She suspected, correctly, that he was taking her statement last in his own form of minor but annoying retribution for her interruption moments earlier. She turned to Officer Fitzsimmons. "Can I call the consulate driver, so he knows that we are delayed?"

Fitzsimmons nodded. "Since we all need to go to the station, why don't you have him come here, and he can drive you girls, since we have to transport the suspects."

"And in case you didn't know," Adalie added, "the 'eadmistress of our school requires that we tell you that we are mutants."

Fitzsimmons rolled his eyes. "Just great!" he said sarcastically. "As if the day wasn't interesting enough ...."

Frankie met the girls and the officers, and then followed the squad car to the police station to complete the paperwork and finish the girls' statements. Unsurprisingly, Aunt Teri was waiting at the station.

"What 'ave you done now, Adalie?" she asked with a sigh.

"These 'ooligans tried to steal my purse," Adalie replied. "Donza and I stopped them, and now I 'ave to endure more police investigations."

"Didn't you 'ave enough of that back 'ome?" Aunt Teri chuckled.

Once again, the girls were questioned individually, this time in considerably more detail, but it was quicker because they were questioned simultaneously by different officers. After almost an hour, the police were satisfied with the statements they'd received, and the girls rode with Aunt Teri to her apartment so they could get ready for the diplomatic reception. Unfortunately for Adalie, her purse was a casualty of the event, as it had to be kept for evidence, even though the contents were returned to her.

Aunt Teri took the card from Adalie as Frankie carried the numerous shopping bags into Teri's apartment. Teri just looked disapprovingly at the girls with a raised eyebrow as they unpacked the bags. When Adalie pulled out a new purse, Aunt Teri just shook her head.

"My purse is in the evidence room at the police station," Adalie said defensively.

"And just how much did you girls spend?" Teri asked bluntly.

"According to Donza and her card scanner, we spent less than the allowance on the card," Adalie replied.

"And we bought things that were on sale, instead of payin' full price," Alicia chimed in. "Mah mom taught me how to shop responsibly," she added proudly.

"You girls need to 'urry up. We need to be at the consulate in an 'our!" Teri urged the girls.

Adalie, being a speedster, was the first one ready. While the others were busily and hurriedly getting their hair fixed and applying their makeup, Adalie pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number she'd been given.

"Whateley Security," the other end of the line answered.

"I am Charge, and I'm with Headrush and Automa-Tech in Boston. I was told to call Chief Delarose in case anything 'appened," Adalie said meekly.

"I'll put the chief on. Hold a moment."

In a few seconds, Delarose's voice was heard on the phone. "Okay, Charge," he began, exasperated, "what happened?"

"Some guys tried to steal my purse," Adalie replied

Delarose sighed. "It's always something with you kids, isn't it?" He sighed heavily. "If it were up to me, I'd never let you kids off campus."

"It's not our fault!" Adalie protested. "We weren't looking for any trouble."

"Okay. Tell me exactly what happened."

French Consulate, Boston

"Are you enjoying yourself?" an older gentleman said from beside Adalie.

Adalie flinched a tiny bit, and then shrugged. "I suppose," she answered nonchalantly. "I've never been to a diplomatic function before."

The older man chuckled. "It's probably no different than your father's business receptions."

Adalie's eyes bugged out. "You ... know my father? And his business?"

"Mais oui," the man replied. "Your father produces a truly outstanding cognac. It is proof that the traditional methods give a much better result than the short-cuts so many try to use these days." He smiled. "But I'm sure that he's already taught you that."

"Oui," Adalie replied. It was safer to make small-talk with this stranger than to mill around aimlessly. She'd already discovered that many gentlemen associated with the consulate wanted to find a young, attractive mistress, and it was Adalie's curse, like many with an exemplar trait, that she looked a bit older than she actually was, even though she was still changing slowly into her final body form. "Papa wants me to take over the business eventually."

"Bah! Where are my manners? I am Mathieu Petit, assistant to the Consul General. And you would be Adalie Vitesse, correct?"

Adalie nodded. "Oui." She paused to take a sip of wine.

Unlike the barbaric Americans, the French Consul General was serving wine and cocktails to _all_ his guests, since in France, even youth were served wine at private functions, and this 'invitation only' reception was considered private enough. Alicia had been stunned by that, not that she could drink, because back home, her parents served drinks to her and her siblings, but that she was served drinks at the reception.

Another gentleman nearby turned toward the pair. "Did you say Vitesse?" he asked in a refined Boston accent.

"That is correct," Adalie answered, a little annoyed that someone else had been eaves-dropping.

"Is your father Jacques Vitesse, of Vitesse Cognacs?" The man appeared to be in his mid-fifties, with a touch of graying in his thick hair. He was tall and slender, and his suit was clearly not off-the-rack.

"Oui, Monsieur," Adalie replied.

The man beamed. "I so wish Vitesse cognacs were available in the States," he said. "I can only bring a few bottles back with me whenever I have a business trip to France. It is my favorite brand."

"Then you will be pleased, Monsieur Kreuger, that we are serving Vitesse cognac this evening," Monsieur Petit said to the newcomer.

Monsieur Kreuger smiled. "I noticed, Mathieu. I must say, I'm impressed. It's not easy to get this outside of the Bordeaux area." He turned back to Adalie. "You really should talk with your father about getting Vitesse imported to the US."

"Per'aps someday," Adalie said, groaning inwardly as she was pressed into a conversation that she really didn't want to participate in. She was bored, bored, bored, with the diplomatic function, and all the stodgy, upper-crust types who were in attendance. She didn't even know _why_ she was there.

Monsieur Kreuger turned and made a hand signal to a young man of about sixteen or seventeen across the room. In response, the young man excused himself from the group he was talking with and walked casually but purposefully toward Monsieur Kreuger. "Yes, father?" he said when he was near.

Adalie's heart stopped for a moment. The younger Kreuger was very handsome, even more-so than her old crush Jean-Michele, with neatly-trimmed medium-brown hair, a strong chin, and hazel eyes that seemed to sparkle with life. He was tall - over six foot, and even the designer suit he wore couldn't disguise his athletic build. He carried himself with an air of confidence that was almost intoxicating.

"John, I thought you'd like to meet Miss Vitesse. Her father owns the Vitesse cognac distillery." He turned to Adalie. "I assume that you're a student here? Where are you going to school? Harvard? Yale?"

Adalie couldn't help but laugh at the man's ludicrous speculation. "Non. I'm only fifteen," she replied, "so I'm a bit young for college." As if she'd ever attend an American university or college! "I'm attending a private school in New Hampshire."

"Really? What school is that?" John Kreuger asked. It was clear that his interest in Adalie had grown when she mentioned her age.

"Whateley Academy," Adalie replied. "Following that, I intend to attend an interior architecture and design institute in France."

"That sounds ... interesting," John said. "I've heard something about Whateley - as a reasonable school. I attend Middlesex in Concord, like most of the men in my family have. Once I graduate from there, I'll go to Harvard business school so I can work in my father's firm."

"My papa would prefer that I go into business with 'im," Adalie said. "I've been working with the distillery and winery since I can remember. But I prefer interior architecture."

"Oh? There are two very good college for that in New England," John said, as if inviting Adalie to study near where _he_ would be attending college.

"I was planning on studying at Ecole d'architecture Athenaeum, like my friend Madame Rousseaux," Adalie said, but she wasn't quite as confident in that pronunciation as she had been previously.

"The Boston Architecture College offers world-class programs, I believe. And it's got the charm of New England." He looked at the wine glass in Adalie's hand. "May I get you another glass of wine? Or perhaps some cognac? I believe it's your father's"

Adalie smiled demurely. "Oui," she practically purred. "A little cognac would be good."

After getting drinks for the both of them, John continued to converse with Adalie, while the adults moved about the room, mingling and chatting with others. Adalie was torn; while John was charming and worldly, she'd rather spend her time with Alicia and Donza - or at least she was certain that she would rather do that, but Donza had been conversing with a few people who'd no doubt learned of her family connections. Adalie was a little envious; Donza seemed to be in her element in the upper-class social-political event, while Adalie felt like a duck out of water. And Alicia? Adalie suddenly realized that poor Alicia must feel completely out of place at this function.

"If you will excuse me," Adalie said, "I need to find my friend."

"You mean Aldonsa de la Bosque y Galvan?" John asked.

"Oui."

"She's quite a young lady, isn't she?" John said. "Her family owns Vida Mejor Tecnologias, don't they?"

"Oui." Adalie suddenly realized that John's interest in Donza was because her family was loaded.

"My father introduced me earlier," John said. He chuckled. "When you mentioned your friend, I thought you were talking about that ... other girl." He wrinkled his nose as he spoke, indicated his disdain for Alicia with no uncertainty.

"Alicia is my room-mate at Whateley," Adalie replied coolly.

"I see," John said disparagingly. "She goes to that fancy school of yours, too? What, is she on a hardship scholarship? Or hadn't they filled their quota of southern rednecks?" A smirk spread on his face. "Although I have to admit that she is rather cute - in a thin, gangly, awkward sort of way. She has potential ..."

The slap caught John by surprise, in that he didn't even see Adalie move before his cheek stung. "Alicia is my friend," Adalie snarled at John. "I will not stand by while you insult 'er!" She stormed off, leaving a stunned group gawking at her, wondering what the little exchange between the two younger people had been about.

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Aunt Teri's Apartment, Boston

"Are y'all goin' t' get up today?" Alicia asked cheerfully. Sunlight streamed into the windows of Aunt Teri's guest room, where Adalie and Donza had been sleeping. Alicia had insisted on sleeping on the sofa to give Adalie and Donza the guest beds..

"Go away!" Adalie hissed softly.

"It's after nine!" Alicia countered. "It's not mah fault that y'all drank too much last night."

Adalie winced at the bright light when she tried to open her eyes. "I didn't drink too much," she protested.

"Do y'all have headaches? A little upset stomach?" Alicia asked, grinning.

"A slight 'eadache," Adalie replied, slowly levering herself to sit on the edge of the bed. "But I did _not_ drink too much! At 'home, we 'ave wine and cognac with dinner all the time, and I have it at my father's business functions. In France, it is legal to serve alcohol to anyone at a private function."

"Probably not as much as y'all drank last night, though!" Alicia chuckled.

"And why don't _you_ 'ave a 'angover?" Adalie snapped, though softly so as not to aggravate her headache.

"Mah pa let us drink hard stuff since Ah was a little girl," Alicia explained. "That stuff last night was pretty mild compared to some of the stuff Ah'm used to drinkin'." She grinned. "Plus, Ah know mah limits for booze! Ah had too many bad hangovers t' _not_ learn that lesson."

Donza sighed. "I must invent something to monitor blood alcohol and hydration, perhaps with a fluid infuser pump to keep the body from dehydrating. That should prevent a hangover."

Twenty minutes later, while Alicia and Donza were doing their morning bathroom routine, Adalie sat at the kitchen table with Aunt Teri, sipping a cup of coffee.

"Why was I at the party last night?" Adalie asked between sips. "It makes no sense to have an average school-girl like me at an important diplomatic function."

Aunt Teri laughed. "Monsieur Petit explained that since you were in town, and since your papa makes good cognac, you might enjoy attending a diplomatic reception."

"What?"

"Monsieur Petit probably wants to get in your papa's good graces, so he can always get his favorite cognac for our diplomatic functions. Several of the more important families in the US, such as the Goodkinds, the Hartfords, and the Walcutts, have a taste for Vitesse cognacs and wines. Because it's not imported, the Consul General can make the occasional gift of a bottle of cognac to help keep communications flowing smoothly. And he can have it served at diplomatic functions to entice the American VIPs to attend, thus facilitating business and diplomatic dealings."

"So he uses it to bribe the rich families?" Adalie was a little astonished.

"Not a bribe, Adalie," Aunt Teri explained, "but it helps open doors."

"So ... papa had them invite me ... so I could get away from campus for a bit? Or so that I could socialize with the American upper-crust businessmen?" She shook her head. "It makes no sense to me. Perhaps I should ask Ayla," Adalie said, mostly to herself. There was much about diplomacy and business dealings that she knew nothing about.

"Ayla?"

Adalie chuckled. "Ayla Goodkind. He ... er, she ... goes to Whateley. And yes, even though they deny it, Ayla is from _that_ Goodkind family."

"You go to a very interesting school, Addy," Aunt Teri said softly, cradling her coffee cup in her hands. "With very interesting people." Teri took a long sip of coffee. "Speaking of which, what was that little ... scene ... with John Kreuger about?"

"That asshole?" Adalie swore. "He insulted Alicia. I wasn't going to let him get away with speaking badly about my roommate." Neither of them saw, or heard, Alicia peeking around the corner, still clad in her robe, curious at having heard her name.

"You really like her, don't you?" Teri asked.

"She's a good room-mate," Adalie said. "She's always happy, and enthusiastic that it's hard not to like her, even with a few faults."

"But ... that awful French she speaks!" Aunt Teri whispered. "How do you stand that?"

Adalie chuckled and took another sip of coffee. "If you ask 'er, I'm sure she'd tell you that I 'ave plenty of faults, too. I guess I've gotten used to it. No friend is perfect." Adalie grinned. "But don't tell 'er that I said that. If she realizes that she's my best friend, she might become insufferable!" she giggled. A moment later, though, Adalie's features clouded, and her eyes misted. "I haven't had a best friend since ... since Colette ...." She couldn't say more, pausing to wipe the tear which had appeared in her eyes at the bitter memory of how her former best-friend had betrayed her.

Out of view around the corner from the kitchen table, Alicia grinned. She had _never_ expected to hear Adalie say that Alicia was her best friend.

"I 'ave to get ready for the meeting I'm supposed to be at," Adalie said insistently. "I don't want to get in trouble again by being late."

"The meeting is a phone call from your father this morning," Teri explained patiently.

"What?" Adalie exclaimed in shock. "But ... it was a diplomatic invitation, and ..."

Teri shrugged. "I was told this morning, before you girls awoke, that the 'important meeting' was a phone call to you from your family."

"What?" Adalie asked, surprised. She sat on the sofa beside Teri, and Alicia was sitting in a large, stuffed chair. Donza, true to her nature, was in the bedroom working on her computer, probably designing the hangover monitor thing she'd though of before the girls ate breakfast.

"Since this is family stuff," Alicia said, "Ah feel kinda awkward intrudin' on y'all's privacy. Ah could go do some more sightseein' while y'all talk."

"Non," Adalie insisted. "There is no need for that. Besides, after the attempted robbery yesterday, do you think that Donza and I would let you go out alone?"

The phone ringing ended the discussion of Alicia leaving the room or apartment. Teri picked up the phone. "'ello?" There was a moment of silence. "Bonjour, Jacques!" she said enthusiastically. "Oui, the girls are awake now, but I think they had a little too much to drink at the reception last evening," she added with a chuckle. "I am putting you on the speaker-phone."

The phone clicked, and noise from the phone filled the room. "Addy?" Monsieur Vitesse's voice sounded aloud.

"Oui, papa," Adalie answered happily. "How are Amelie and Tessa?"

"I'm here, Addy," Amelie's voice answered.

"Me, too!" Tessa chimed in, interrupting.

"How are you? Are you having fun at that school? I miss you. Madame Rousseaux asks about you all the time," Amelie babbled.

"I miss you, too," Tessa chimed in.

"And I miss you two, as well," Adalie replied, smiling.

"When are you coming home?" Tessa asked.

Adalie glanced nervously at Aunt Teri, and at Alicia. "I hope this summer, Tessa," she replied uncertainly. "It depends on some things I can't control."

"Madame Rousseaux and Soeur Justice have been meeting with townspeople to try to convince them that you aren't evil or dangerous just because you're a mutant," Jacques explained. "I think they've convinced many people, but ...." He didn't have to say more; they all knew how muto-phobic the Chaniers area was.

"Hi, Addy," Nicole chimed in pleasantly.

Neither Alicia nor Aunt Teri could miss the anger and resentment which instantly clouded Adalie's face. "Papa," Adalie said, coldly ignoring Nicole's greeting, "if I _can_ come home this summer, my room-mate might come with me, at least for a while." She saw Alicia's face light up with joy.

"There's a reason that we wanted to talk to you together, Teri and Adalie," Jacques said.

Adalie glanced at Teri. "Papa, did you bribe the Consul General to get me invited to the party last evening?"

"Non, ma belle," Jacques chuckled. "I think he was trying to bribe _me_, so I would keep him supplied with cognac."

"I don't understand why it took a diplomatic invitation to get me to Boston," Adalie commented.

"I talked to one of the administrators at your school, a Ms. Hartford," Jacques began.

Alicia glowered. "She hates me!" she retorted angrily. "Everyone knows that she's a very bitchy woman."

"Apparently so, ma belle," Jacques continued. "When she would not let you away from the school for the weekend to visit your Aunt Teri, I talked to Monsieur Petit in the consulate, and he arranged for a diplomatic invitation."

"But ... what's so important that you had to get me to come to Boston?" Adalie asked, baffled by the growing mystery.

"We have something important to tell you, and we wanted to tell the whole family at once," Nicole replied. The happiness in her voice was unmistakable; she was almost giddy.

Adalie stiffened; she was getting a very bad feeling about the phone call.

"It affects all of us," Jacques added enthusiastically.

"What is it, papa?" Amelie asked from the Vitesse home. Even the girls didn't know, which deepened both the mystery and the significance of whatever was about to be said.

"By the end of the summer, girls, you are going to have a baby brother!" Nicole bubbled.

"A baby brother?" Amelie and Tessa asked together, excitement in their voices.

"Non!" Adalie screamed in horror. "Non, papa, non!" She bolted from the sofa and, barely pausing to open the door, darted from the apartment, wailing 'no' over and over as she ran, half-blinded by the torrent of tears which had suddenly sprung from her eyes.

Aunt Teri started to rise to follow the girl, but Alicia stood. "No. You stay and talk to your family. I'll go talk to her."

Near Aunt Teri's Apartment, Boston

Alicia found Adalie sitting under a tree in a small courtyard in the center of the apartment building. She had her knees drawn up to her chin, and her arms were crossed on her knees, with her face buried in her arms. Even from several feet away, Alicia could hear Adalie's crying, and could see her body convulsing as she sobbed uncontrollably.

"Adalie?" Alicia said softly as she sat down beside her room-mate. "Are you okay?"

Adalie shook her head. "She won," she wailed. "She won."

"Who won, Addy?" Alicia asked as she put her arm around Addy's shoulders.

"Nicole won," Adalie said bitterly. "She's been trying to push away all the memories of my mother," she cried, "and now she won."

"How did she win? How did she make everyone forget ...?"

"You heard - Papa, Amelie, and Tessa are very excited that they have a new mama," Adalie complained bitterly through her sobbing. "She's making Amelie forget all about mama, and now that she's pregnant, Papa is forgetting all about her, too!" Adalie leaned against Alicia's shoulder, letting her room-mate wrap her arms comfortingly around her. "I'm the only one trying to hang on to memories of mama, and see what that got me? She made papa send me here for school so I couldn't stop her!"

Alicia held Adalie tightly. "Ah don't think she's tryin' to make y'all's family forget ..."

"I'm the only one who remembers mama now," Adalie sobbed. "She got to the rest of them! Poor little Tessa never even knew mama, so she had to send me away so I couldn't teach Tessa about how good mama was, or share all the things mama used to do with us." She let her head sink onto Alicia's shoulder as she cried and cried.

After about fifteen minutes of Adalie's non-stop crying, Alicia said, "Ah don't think it's like y'all are saying. Ah think y'all ought to talk to your papa."

"Non!" Adalie said fiercely. "I don't want to talk to him. Not after he's pushed away my mama like he has!"

"Adalie," Alicia tried again, "he's your papa! He must love y'all, or he wouldn't have sent y'all here to be safe!"

"It was all _her_ idea," Adalie complained. "She had to get me out of the way."

The buzz from Adalie's cell phone interrupted her lament. She pulled it from her pocket, and glared at the number being displayed before she touched a control to refuse the call.

"Who was that?" Alicia asked, prying where she knew she probably shouldn't, but she also knew that Adalie needed someone with her, given her state of distress. She really hadn't needed to ask about the phone call; she'd seen the screen in the brief moment before Adalie had refused the call from her father. Alicia knew that she needed to get Addy to talk about this, because she was far too distraught.

Sunday, March 18, 2007
On the train between Boston and Dunwich

A casual observer in the train would have thought that Adalie was napping in her seat, with her knees drawn up close to her chest with her arms wrapped around them. She was turned toward the window, away from Donza and Alicia, and resting her head half against the seat back and half on her knees. Alicia, though, knew that Adalie wasn't napping, but was still crying from what was, to her, devastating news. She was completely traumatized by the phone call which had brought news of an impending baby step-brother, an offspring of her dear father and his lover that Adalie disliked intensely. It should have been a happy moment for Adalie and her family; instead, it was evidence, to her, that the rest of her family had forgotten her deceased mother.

Alicia glanced at Donza, seated next to Alicia in the club seat group they occupied. She was trying to work on her computer, occasionally trying to see if Adalie wanted to talk. "Adalie?" Donza said softly to the girl, trying to get the girl to respond. She was no more successful than she'd been for their last two hours in Boston, nor in the first hour of their train trip. Alicia put her hand on Donza's, catching the senior's attention. Alicia gestured with her head toward the restroom end of the train car.

"I'm going to the restroom," Donza announced needlessly as she folded her laptop and stood, walking down the aisle of the gently-swaying train car, laptop held under her arm.

Alicia knew that Donza's excuse was a lie because she was taking her precious laptop, and its numerous half-finished designs, with her. She scooted across the small seat group to Adalie's side, and without a second thought, gently pulled Adalie's head onto her shoulder, wrapping her arms around the distraught girl.

"Addy," Alicia said soothingly, "Ah know y'all are hurtin' pretty bad right now. But it'll get better."

"You can't know 'ow much it 'urts to see my family forget my mother," Adalie said, her voice gruff and angry.

"No, Ah can't," Alicia agreed. "But Ah've been listening to ya talkin' 'bout your family since we moved in together, so Ah know it _does_ hurt ya."

"I lost my best friend because I'm a mutant!" Adalie wept. "I lost my school, and my friends. And now I 'ave lost my family, too!"

"How do ya figure you've lost your family?" Alicia asked softly.

"No-one wants to remember mama!" Adalie cried. "No-one but me! She was a very important part of my life. We used to cook together, and we had a special tree we'd sit under to rest, and watch the clouds, and to talk. Now, I'm the only one who remembers! Nicole will try to steal those memories, too, because she wants me to call her mama!"

"Adalie," Alicia chastised her softly, "no-one wants to forget your mom. She's too important in all of your lives."

"This is the final proof that Nicole 'as stolen their memories of mom," Adalie cried. "Even Papa has forgotten 'er now."

"No, he hasn't," Alicia said firmly, "and he never will. He had three daughters with her. He can't forget, as long as y'all are alive to remind him of your mother." She lightly held Adalie's cheeks so she was looking Alicia in the eyes. "But your papa has to live. He has to keep goin', and having a companion may be what he needs t' do that."

"But I'm the only one who wants to remember," Adalie cried out softly. Her cheeks glistened from the tears she'd already shed, and she made no effort to wipe them.

"It's not fair of ya t' treat your papa and sisters like they're traitors, Addy," Alicia said firmly, scolding Adalie lightly.

"What?"

"Y'all are actin' like your papa is a traitor because he wants to move on with his life," Alicia said. "You're talkin' like he's deliberately forgettin' about your mama. That ain't fair t' him, is it? Do ya really think your papa's that shallow?"

"Non," Adalie said softly after thinking a few seconds.

"Y'all are always goin' t' miss your mom," Alicia said softly, "because you love her so much. Ah can tell how much ya miss her."

"'Ow do you know? 'Ave you lost your mother?" Adalie asked in a snarky tone.

"No," Alicia answered hesitantly.

"Then you'll never understand 'ow much it 'urts to miss 'er, or to see Nicole stealing Papa's and Amelie's memories of 'er!" Adalie snapped in response.

"No, Ah can't understand," Alicia agreed. "But ...."

"As long as _she's_ in the 'ouse, I don't have a family, or a 'ome." Adalie let tears seep from her eyes without bothering to wipe at them. "I 'ave nowhere to go back to. My best friend turned 'er back on me because I'm a mutant!"

"Ah _can_ be a friend and listen when ya need t' talk, and give ya a hug or a shoulder t' cry on when ya need one."

Adalie stared at Alicia for a few seconds before speaking. "I'm ... I'm afraid."

"Afraid? Of what?" Alicia thought a moment. "Are ya afraid of lettin' people get close to ya?" She felt, rather than saw, the faint nod Adalie made. "Why?"

"Because, I don't want to be 'urt again like when Mama died, or when Collette rejected me."

Alicia's eyebrows lifted. "Ah take it Collette was y'all's best friend?"

Adalie nodded. "We were friends from early in school," she said sadly. "And then when I manifested, she screamed at me that I should never come near 'er again! Even after I saved 'er from a runaway 'orse."

"And Ah assume y'all's school mates turned their backs on ya, too?"

"I was chased out of school, and out of town. Even after I saved two children that I used to babysit, they were afraid of me, and shunned me," Adalie sobbed at the bitter memories. "Everyone wanted to get rid of me because I was different."

"Ah didn't know."

"After I manifested, my summer was brutal. Even when I was with Soeur Justice, and things weren't so 'ectic, I ... I never 'ad time to laugh or 'ave fun, because of the French MCO and the trial," Adalie recounted sadly. The flow of tears had ebbed, but she was still quite morose. "Since I came to Whateley, I 'ave 'ad troubles with classes and teachers, and although the others are friends, I don't think they are really close friends."

"Y'all are lettin' me get close," Alicia said soothingly. "You've got at least one friend. And y'all are mah best friend at school."

Adalie goggled at her room-mate. "But ... I've been ... not very nice toward you sometimes."

Alicia chuckled. "Ah know. But Ah also know that, deep down inside, ya need a friend as much as Ah do - even if ya won't admit it t' yourself."

Adalie sat for a bit, thinking and leaning on Alicia's shoulder. "Are ... are you my best friend?" she finally asked hesitantly.

Alicia smiled. "That's for y'all to say. But Ah'll be your best friend - if ya want." She wiped some of the moisture from Adalie's cheek. "And that means that ya can talk t' me about things that bug ya, because that's what best friends do."

Kane Hall, Whateley

Chief Delarose sat back, scanning the paper in his hands. Across the desk, the three girls sat nervously. As was standard procedure, they'd had to report to the security office because there had been an 'incident' while they were in Boston.

After a few moments, Delarose put the paper down on his desk. "What is it with you kids and Boston?" he asked gruffly. "It seems like every time someone goes to Boston, trouble happens."

"Chief," Donza said calmly, "Adalie was the victim of an attempted purse-snatching."

"And you responded by using your powers to stop the theft, right?" He sighed.

"They were stealing my purse!" Adalie protested.

"Couldn't you have done something without using your powers?" Delarose almost pleaded. He saw the girls start to speak, and held up his hands, palms toward them, signaling to be quiet. "No, don't answer that," he said. He shook his head. "Okay, I've got your reports, and they match the police report, so you're free to go."

"Thank you," Donza said politely, sliding back her chair so she could stand. "The police officers told us that we may be required to go to testify."

Delarose nodded forlornly. "I expected as much. I might just send a couple of security officers with you if you do, just to make sure you stay out of trouble."

"At least we didn't cause as much trouble as the Kimbas," Donza said with a grin.

There was a flash of disgust on Delarose's face, and then he nodded. "There is that." As the girls started to file out, he cleared his throat to get their attention. "I almost forgot. Charge, Mrs. Carson asked me to send you to her office."

Adalie's eyebrows rose. "On Sunday?" she asked, stunned by the direction.

With the other two, Adalie walked out of Kane Hall toward Schuster. At the front steps, Adalie paused. "I'll see you in a few minutes," she said to Alicia.

"Okay."

"And Donza, thank you for agreeing to chaperone us. I ... I appreciate it."

Donza smiled. "The reception last night was useful. I made a few contacts that I will pass to my father." A broad grin crept across her face. "And the best part is that I got to field-test my neural inhibitors."

Alicia laughed. "Ah think the police were impressed, and want some for themselves."

"I think they kept those as 'evidence' so they can do some more field testing themselves," Donza smiled. "More business for the company," she replied. With Alicia at her side, she turned and strode easily toward Melville.

Adalie gulped, wondering what she was in trouble for _this_ time. Her experiences with Mrs. Carson and Ms. Hartford had been unpleasant enough that she really didn't want to meet with anyone in the administration, especially on a Sunday when it was an imposition on their personal time. Knowing that keeping Mrs. Carson waiting wasn't going to help, she forced herself up the few steps and into Schuster, pausing once more to steel her nerves before she pushed open the frosted glass door of the administration suite.

"Come in, Adalie," Mrs. Carson called from her office even before Adalie had closed the door behind herself.

Adalie entered, and took a chair opposite Mrs. Carson's large desk. "You wanted to talk to me, Madame?" she asked meekly. She wouldn't admit to anyone, but Mrs. Carson scared the bejeepers out of her.

"I understand your trip was a little ... challenging," Mrs. Carson began .

"Oui, Madame," Adalie answered. "Two thieves tried to steal my purse, and we, that is, Donza, Alicia, and I, had to stop them."

Mrs. Carson smiled. "Yes, I read about that. I'm sure Sensei Ito will be pleased to read the police report. It shows that you _are_ learning something in his class. But that wasn't what I'm talking about."

Adalie gulped. "I ... I'm sorry that I slapped that boy at the reception," she stammered.

"Oh? I hadn't heard about _that_ one. Please tell me more."

"'E was insulting Alicia," Adalie said, wincing. She just _had_ to open her mouth, didn't she? Now she was going to get in trouble even more.

"And you had to defend her?" Mrs. Carson's smile broadened. "I'm pleased to see that you're expanding your circle of friends."

"My _only_ real friend," Adalie said bitterly.

"It was very noble of you to come to the defense of your room-mate," Mrs. Carson said. "But there's more, isn't there?"

Adalie nodded, looking down at the desk to avoid meeting Mrs. Carson's gaze directly. "Oui, Madame."

"Your aunt called to tell me that you'd had a pretty ... disturbing conversation with your family that left you rather traumatized."

Adalie nodded. "It's something that I have to deal with."

"You don't have to deal with it alone," Mrs. Carson said in a sympathetic voice that surprised Adalie. "We have a staff of counselors to help our students with _any_ problems or issues they might have."

"Counselors didn't 'elp when ...." Adalie stopped, her voice cracking. Why was it that everything this weekend was reminding her of her dear, departed mother?

"Do you know that your father spent time with a counselor after your mother passed away?"

Adalie's head snapped up and she goggled at Mrs. Carson. "Non," she said, not quite trusting herself to speak. Her father? Strong, firm, stoic Jacques Vitesse had seen a counselor when he lost his wife?

"Adalie, I've lost people I love - more than you could imagine. It's never easy, and you may not want to hear this, but you're always going to hurt some from your loss. But, with counseling, you can learn to focus on the happy memories and good times, so that you can move on with your life."

Adalie's jaw dropped; for a brief moment, Mrs. Carson sounded like Adalie's mother when she'd had to give Adalie advice. "It's ... it's so 'ard," Adalie said softly.

"And you can't afford to push away the rest of your family when you need them the most," Mrs. Carson continued. "Do you understand? They lost someone special, too, and they still hurt. But all of you have to move on and not mire yourselves in grief."

"But ... Nicole is pushing 'erself in to take Mother's place," Adalie said, fighting to not cry. "She's trying to make everyone forget."

"The fact that she's pregnant makes you think that your father has forgotten his first wife?" Not looking up, Adalie nodded. "He'll _never_ forget her."

Not trusting herself to speak more about it, Adalie looked down, feeling moisture on her cheeks.

Mrs. Carson picked up her phone and dialed a number. "Bonsoir, Monsieur Vitesse," she said. "I apologize for the hour, but there is someone in my office who very much needs to speak to you."

Adalie's head snapped up, surprised at what Mrs. Carson was doing. "I ... I can't. 'E ... and 'er ...."

"Adalie, you two need each other. Don't turn your back on your family now." She extended the phone toward the girl.

Hesitantly, almost fearfully, Adalie took the phone from Mrs. Carson. "'Ello, Papa?" she began, her voice tinged with uncertainty.

Melville Cottage

Alicia was at her desk studying when Adalie returned from Schuster. "Well?" Alicia asked as soon as Adalie came in the door.

"Mrs. Carson ... called my papa," Adalie said softly.

"Good. Ah hope, anyway."

Adalie nodded. "Oui. I think. 'E knows that I miss 'er, and knows why I don't like Nicole. 'E told me that 'e doesn't expect me to treat her like mama, but that I should at least give 'er a chance to be a friend." She plopped her suitcase on her bed and began to unpack.

"Remember, Ah'm here to talk any time ya want," Alicia reminded her room-mate.

"I know. And thank you." Adalie pulled the fancy dress from the luggage and hung it in her wardrobe. As she took out her bag of toiletries, something went 'clink' in the suitcase.

"What's that?" Alicia asked, curious.

Adalie moved a few items and pulled up a pair of glass bottles. "I see Aunt Teri didn't forget!" she said with a smile, holding two prize bottles of Vitesse cognac.

"Adalie!" Alicia cried, horrified at what her room-mate had in her hands. "That's way against the rules!"

"Oh, don't worry," Adalie said confidently. "It won't be in the room for long."

Alicia thought, and her eyebrows lifted while a mischievous grin crept across her face. "Are ya suggestin' that we ... get rid o' the evidence?"

Adalie was surprised, but only momentarily. "Non, ma amie," she said. "One bottle is for Chef Marcel, who cooks for our club meetings from time to time. It's ... to thank 'im for 'is efforts."

"And the other bottle?" Alicia asked.

"Some of us in the EPL cook," Adalie said, "and this is for our pantry, so when we cook a dish that needs a good cognac, we'll have our supply."

"Aw, damn!" Alicia scowled. "Ah was hopin' we could have a party and get a little drunk one of these nights!" She couldn't hold the faux expression, and she started giggling, joined soon by Adalie.

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Melville Cottage

Adalie found a note from Alicia on her desk, telling her to meet Alicia in Melville's kitchen. Curious, she took the elevator to the second floor, and as she strode toward the communal kitchen, her nose was tantalized by a unique and somewhat enticing aroma. She came in the kitchen and saw Alicia standing over the stove, stirring the contents of one large pot, while another, covered, simmered on another burner.

"Ah see ya got mah note," Alicia said with a grin.

"What are you doing?"

"Ah told ya that good gumbo was better than that clam soup stuff we had in Boston, so now Ah'm gonna prove it t' ya."

Adalie cringed - a bit. "Are you ... cooking ... gumbo?"

"Yeah," Alicia replied eagerly. "And Ah made some red beans and rice t' go with it. Ah'm hopin' Donza will come, too." She looked at the two large pots. "Ah forgot that Ma's recipe made so much. There's probably enough here that we'll have leftovers for quite a while!"

Adalie moved closer to the pot and inhaled. "It smells ... quite good," she said. "I think I will call the others. If they do want to eat, we can carry the dish to the EPL clubhouse so we can dine in private."

Alicia's eyebrows rose in surprise. The Berets were a very, very exclusive group. For Adalie to invite her to their clubhouse was unheard of. The only two non-Europeans that Alicia knew was permitted to hang out with the Berets were Ayla, because he seemed to act like he _was_ European, and Reach, because he - or she - was Genevieve's boyfriend. Girlfriend. Whatever. Alicia couldn't help giggling at that thought - Reach was a very complicated person - sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, and always with Genevieve.

Twenty minutes later, the two girls carried the two large cooking pots into the EPL clubhouse. Many of the Berets were already there, looking skeptically at Alicia as she and Adalie set the pots on the professional-quality range there, turning the burners on to keep the dishes warm.

"What do we have here?" Chat Bleu asked as she tried to get a peek into the pots.

"That's a surprise," Alicia grinned, blocking view of the pots' contents.

"It smells good," Genevieve said, sitting beside Reach - as expected.

Reach looked thoughtful. "Hmm, Alicia is from Louisiana, so ... I would suspect that it's jambalaya, or perhaps red-beans and rice. Or instead of the jambalaya, it could be a Cajun crawfish boil. But I don't think she would serve both jambalaya _and_ red-beans-and-rice, because both have rice in them."

Alicia laughed. "Ya got one of 'em right. The other pot is seafood gumbo."

"Gumbo?" Charmer asked, wrinkling her nose and the odd-sounding name of the dish. "What is gumbo?"

"It's a thick soup," Alicia explained. "When we were in Boston, we had somethin' called chowder, and it made me think of making some gumbo, like my ma used t' cook."

Adalie glanced around, and saw some of the Berets looking a little nervously at the cooking pots. "Let's eat," she said, trying to bring a positive attitude to the skeptics.

Before anyone could move, Donza came into the room. "Am I too late?" she asked. She looked at Alicia. "Your note said we'd eat in the kitchen in Melville, but you didn't tell me that you moved over here."

Adalie gasped. "Oh, I'm sorry," she apologized. "It's my fault. I suggested that we eat 'ere instead of the Melville kitchen, and I forgot to tell you when I called everyone else."

Donza feigned a scowl. "And I would be quite annoyed if I had missed anything because of your mistake." She let a smile spread across her features. "But since you haven't started eating, I'm not too upset."

While Alicia did a last taste test of the gumbo and red beans, Adalie got some bowls and plates from a cabinet, and silverware from a drawer. When Alicia eyed the real china and flatware, Adalie smiled. "It's not right to serve food in something plastic and artificial."

Alicia chuckled. "Y'all are goin' t' get along with Ma just fine."

Adalie smiled nervously; despite the declared friendship with Alicia, the thought of spending time in Louisiana with Alicia and her family, as Alicia hoped, made Adalie very uneasy.

After a leisurely dinner, during which several of the Berets went for seconds, Chat Bleu spoke to Adalie. "That was much better than I expected," she said, and then wrinkled her brow, realizing that her statement might be misinterpreted. "I mean, I was expecting ... very spicy, like the icrevisses and crevettes."

Alicia smiled. "Ah know what ya mean. Ah suppose the bugs and shrimp _might_ have been a little spicier than y'all are used to. Ah grew up with it, so Ah seasoned them to mah taste. But Ah'm glad y'all enjoyed the gumbo."

"I didn't think that such a dish would be flavored with such a ... delicate and delightful blend of spices," Donza chimed in.

"Y'all were thinkin' that us backwoods types wouldn't know how t' use spices?" Alicia asked, chuckling. "Ma studied gourmet cookin' in college, and she taught me from the time I was knee-high."

Primavera looked at Adalie. "I have some studying to do," she announced. "I would help clean up, but you know the rules ...."

Alicia glanced at Adalie, frowning, but Adalie was just nodding. "Oui. Alicia and I will get the dishes done."

Primavera's departure seemed to be a signal for the others to drift out of the clubhouse as well, leaving only Alicia and Adalie to do the dishes.

"Ah'll wash, if ya want," Alicia volunteered.

Adalie laughed. "The only thing we must wash are the pots from our cottage. The rest we just 'ave to rinse and load in the dishwasher."

"Since loadin' the dishwasher is easier, and Ah cooked, Ah'll do the pots."

The two girls went about their chores, and there seemed to be an awkward silence. Finally, Adalie paused, turned to Alicia, and spoke. "I 'ave to say again, merci."

"For what?" Alicia asked, puzzled.

"For being there with me when I needed someone to talk to," Alicia said.

"Ah knew it was tough for ya," Alicia replied.

"I appreciate it more than you can know." Adalie paused, thinking. "There is one thing, though."

"What?"

Adalie bit her lower lip, trying to figure out how to say what was on her mind. "Per'aps I can 'elp you with your French."

Alicia's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong with ma French?"

"Non, please don't take it wrong. But, if you ever travel to France with me, it would be easier if you sounded like a native French woman, without your ... charming ... accent." Adalie realized that her request still sounded a bit insulting. "With practice, you could sound very ... sophisticated and worldly," she added.

Alicia's scowl vanished, replaced slowly with a grin. "Well, Ma always did say that Ah should try t' be more a 'woman of the world', so, yeah, Ah think that'd be somethin' fun t' surprise Ma and Pa with." She grinned. "Deal. We'll help each other." She turned and wrapped Adalie in a big hug. "'Cuz that's what best friends do, right?"

Adalie nodded and smiled. "Oui. Best friends."

Comments   

0 # DieselDriver 2016-01-30 02:06
I love a happy ending, even if this is only a pause it's still happy for now.
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