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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Charge 1: La Belle de Chaniers

by ElrodW

 

Chapter 1

May 14, 2006
The Vitesse Home, Chaniers, France

The clouds roiling in the skies overhead, overcast and gray and churning as they skittered across the sky, were a perfect metaphor for the girl lying on a hillock behind her family house, partially sheltered from view by a large oak tree. She sighed heavily, thinking, wondering, and generally feeling quite miserable. Only rain would have better suited her mood, dismal as it was.

Presently, she heard footsteps approaching, and her jaw clenched at the thought that Nicole was coming out to _her_ spot, the spot she'd spent so many happy memories with her mother - before. A tear welled up in the corner of the girl's eye at the memories of lost times and happiness that was forever gone, memories of being a happy little girl with ribbons in her hair enjoying a special mommy-daughter picnic in that very spot, of lying back in the grass beside her mother, playing imagination games with the clouds in the sky, of sitting, with her little sister in mother's lap as the two gazed quietly over the nearby hillsides covered with grape vines, watching and laughing and competing to see who would be the first to catch sight of the girl's father as he came in from supervising work in the fields. How _dare_ Nicole intrude on that almost-sacred place, profaning it with her presence. It was bad enough to have to share her father and her home with the young lady.

Instead of the disliked Nicole, another schoolgirl, fourteen like the first girl, plopped down on the grass, and then let herself flop to her back. "I figured you were here, Addy," the newcomer said. "You seem to come here often."

"Of course, Colette," Adalie, the first girl, said, her voice straining to show no emotion despite the turmoil she felt in her heart. "It's my special place, where I come to sit and think."

Colette lifted her head, and then wiped at Adalie's cheek. "And to cry, I think, Addy," she added softly.

"I don't need to cry," Adalie protested, working to keep from sobbing as she spoke. "I shouldn't need to cry."

Colette put her hand gently on Adalie's shoulder. "Yes, you do," she admonished her friend tenderly. "I can tell when you miss your mother, when you fight the tears. But it's okay to cry."

Adalie shook her head, fighting the tears which came so easily in the presence of her friend, the one person with whom she could share her feelings. "It's been three and a half years. It shouldn't hurt so much."

Colette slid her arm under Adalie's neck and pulled the girl closer, so that Adalie's head was on her shoulder. "She was your _mother_, ma cherie," Colette said, brushing Adalie's cheek tenderly with her free arm. "You'll never stop missing her, because you loved her so much."

"But it hurts," Adalie wept openly, rolling so she could cling more closely to her friend. "And it's so unfair to Therese! She never knew her." Adalie let Colette hug her for several minutes while she cried on her friend's shoulder. When the sobbing stopped, Adalie lifted her head and wiped her tears. "It's not fair," she repeated. "She was so good. Why was it her, and not someone nasty like that bitchy Madame Archambault?" The anguish in Adalie's voice was plain to hear.

Colette shook her head, holding Adalie tightly. "I don't know," she said over and over. After a bit, she released Adalie and sat up. "Dry your tears, and let's go talk to Monsieur LeClerc. He's always full of cheer."

Adalie let her friend pull her up. "He's always full of cognac," she forced a hollow laugh.

"Very true," Colette chuckled, "but he's got wonderful and amusing stories, and he's always so happy. I think you need something happy right now."

Adalie stood slowly, and helped Colette to her feet. "You may be right." Her eyes narrowed a bit. "But I bet you just want to see if he'll let us sample some cognac, yes?"

Colette giggled. "It had crossed my mind. Come," she said, tugging Adalie's hand as she practically skipped down a small lane toward the main distillery building of the Vitesse Winery and Cognac Distillery, which was on the Vitesse property, half a kilometer from the house. "I'm looking forward to history class next week; there is a tour group of American veterans of the war who helped liberate France, and they will talk about their experiences," she said, making conversation.

Adalie frowned. "I shall be out sick that day," she announced.

"Oh? Why?" Collette was confused.

Adalie's expression became bitter. "Because they were stupid! They couldn't even tell the difference between a Bosch soldier and an old man who was coming joyfully with a few bottles of wine and some baguettes to celebrate liberation!"

Collette frowned. She hadn't heard this story before. "Who was that?"

"They murdered my mother's grandfather," Adalie snarled. "So I will _not_ attend history class when those stupid Americans visit!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry, ma cherie," Collette said softly, gently placing her hand on Adalie's arm.

"It ruined my mother's family. They lost everything, destroyed in all the fighting, and great grandfather wasn't around to help them rebuild. My great grandmother and my grandmother had to take menial jobs to help the family survive."

The rest of the walk to the distillery was in silence as Adalie fumed over the bitter memories - sadly, not the only ones that had caused her a visceral hatred of Americans - while Collette didn't know what to say to console her friend.

In the cavernous building, dominated by the large copper stills in the first, large room with exposed oaken beams and yellowed plaster, Colette and Adalie stopped immediately, almost a reflexive habit as their noses took in the complex aromas of the cognac production facility, and from the next room, the always-present aroma of grapes that the presses exuded, even in the off-season when they weren't in use, such as that spring day.

"Ah, Adalie," a cheery, portly older man with a round, plump face called from one side of the vast room. "And Colette? To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" he continued as he waddled toward the girls. "Are you looking for your father?"

"No, Monsieur LeClerc," Adalie replied. Her eyes still felt puffy from her crying, but she hoped that the master distiller wouldn't notice. "If I know Papa, he's in the fields overseeing the grape pruning, yes?"

The rotund Pierre LeClerc grinned. "You're ready to take over the business any time your father decides to retire and spend his leisure time on the Riviera with Nicole," he chuckled. The friendly laugh died in his throat when he saw the flash of distress on Adalie's face. Everyone knew that the girl still hurt from the loss of her mother. It was too bad that she always looked so sad, like she was in a perpetual state of mourning. If not for that, she would probably be the prettiest girl in Chaniers, with her silky brunette hair worn in a sexy bob just above her shoulders, and her lovely soft brown eyes and classically-pretty Gallic features. Except for that tart Lorraine, she _was_ the prettiest girl in her class, and friends with nearly everyone she met - when she wasn't in one of her frequent blue funks. For a moment, Monsieur LeClerc wished that he was the age of his grandson Jean-Michel, so he could try his luck at wooing the attractive girl. Her pretty friend Colette would be worthy of pursuit, too, even though there were rumors that she had no interest in boys.

"Ah, ma petite fille," a sonorous voice called from behind the girls. "I thought I saw you coming here." The girls spun, Adalie's face already lighting up at recognizing her father's voice. He practically skipped to Adalie as she dashed to him, and they wrapped their arms lovingly around each other. Adalie was a relatively small girl, standing one hundred fifty-six cm tall and weighing only thirty-eight kilos, but her father was twenty cm taller, and weighed a trim sixty-six kilos. They had the same dark hair, and the same brown eyes, but Monsieur Vitesse had a vitality and sparkle in his eyes that Adalie's lacked, at least at that moment.

Monsieur Vitesse released his bear hug of his daughter and turned to Colette, giving her a one-armed hug while he kissed her forehead. "And what brings you here today, Colette? Or are you trying to sweet-talk Pierre into giving you a taste of our latest wares?" he asked with a grin, eliciting a guilty look from Colette that indicated he'd correctly surmised her intentions. "Come, Pierre, girls," he commanded in a friendly way. "Let us go satisfy the curiosity of Mademoiselle Sartre, then."

With his arm around Adalie, the elder Vitesse led the group across the main distillation room into a smaller, lower-ceilinged tasting room, with a hulking oak table in the center, two large ancient oak bookcases, and a very large oak sideboard against a wall. The dark beams of the ceiling added to the old, rustic look of the room, which in turn added an aura of tradition and craftsmanship to the building, which would subconsciously translate into tradition and craftsmanship of the distillery. He and Monsieur LeClerc pulled out chairs for the girls to sit, and then the master distiller retrieved a bottle from atop the sideboard sideboard, while Adalie's father set out four small goblets.

After sampling of the beverage Monsieur LeClerc poured, Monsieur Vitesse practically purred with satisfaction. "Ah, that is an excellent cognac," he beamed. "Is this the nineteen ninety-six experiment, where you blended in some Pinot Blanc?"

Monsieur LeClerc smiled in appreciation of the compliment, and admiration for the fine nose and palate of his boss. "Yes, Jacques. You have a good nose for the blending of grapes, even if I sometimes argue with your choices."

Jacques Vitesse laughed aloud. "As I recall, you did more than argue that year," he chuckled. "I seem to remember you threatened to quit if I continued my 'mad experiments'."

Monsieur LeClerc smiled, looking much like a beardless jolly Father Noel. "I would hate to have you become smug if I said that you were right, but now we have one of the finest XO cognacs on the market."

"Papa," Adalie interrupted, "Daphne asked me to get some cognac for some special dishes she has planned for tomorrow. I think a VSOP is sufficient for what she has planned."

"Very well, ma petite." He turned to his master distiller. "Get a bottle of the 2001 VSOP for Adalie to take to the house. And perhaps a bottle of Pineau as an aperitif." He noticed a curious expression on Colette's face. "And what is on your mind?" he asked gently.

Colette glanced at Adalie, her cheeks flushing red. "I was ... that is ... my parents ....

"Out with it, Colette," Adalie threatened with a menacing grin, "or I shall tickle you until you give up your secret."

Colette looked down at the table. "It is my parents' anniversary on Thursday - their twentieth. I was hoping that maybe ...." She was too embarrassed to continue.

Monsieur Vitesse caught on immediately. "Ah, a special present? Pierre, please also get Madmoiselle Colette a bottle of Pineau and also a bottle of the fine XO we just tasted." He beamed at Adalie's best friend, leaving her sitting speechless. Vitesse cognacs were considered an outstanding - and expensive - brand by even the likes of Americans like the Goodkinds and the Walcutts, and the Pineau was award-winning, even if it wasn't as widely known.

"Mel, please," Adalie sighed in frustration as she looked up from her homework and shot a withering glare at her younger sister, Amelie. "I'm trying to study. I have an exam tomorrow."

"The only thing you wish to study is Jean-Michel," the eleven-year-old Amelie shot back.

Adalie's brow furrowed, and she fumed. "That's not true," she replied angrily.

"Oh really?" Amelie asked. "Why is it you're always trying to walk with him to or from school?" she taunted.

Adalie dashed from the bedroom she shared with her younger sister, her pencil clattering to the floor as she fled in anger and frustration from her sister's brutal, but accurate, taunts. She ran headlong away from the house, toward a grove of ancient oak trees, to her spot near one of the largest. Flopping down, she wiped at her tears. "Mere," she implored as she looked skyward, "what am I supposed to do?"

Alas, the skies were silent; there was no angelic voice calling from on high to give her advice or guidance, there were no signs that she could follow. She was left, feeling alone, wondering how she was supposed to get through life.

After a bit, she heard the rustling of someone coming her way. She turned her head slightly, and then instantly snapped her gaze back to the clouds and sky. The last person in the world she wanted to deal with was coming her way.

Nicole Beaulieau strode softly toward the distraught girl. She hadn't heard the taunting and argument between the eldest of Jacques' daughters, but she knew instinctively what the argument had been about. As usual, Amelie teased Adalie mercilessly about boys, and one boy in particular that Adalie was interested in. She sat on the grass beside Adalie, leaning back on her arms. "What's bothering you?" she asked in as gentle a tone as she could muster.

"Nothing!" Adalie snapped at her. She didn't deign to look at her father's lover, the twenty-one-year-old beauty who had caught her father's eye. Nicole was taking the place of Adalie's mother, pushing aside the precious memories of Therese Vitesse, and it wasn't right. No matter that Nicole was younger and had a better figure than Adalie's mom; there was no reason for Jacques Vitesse to forget all about his wife of almost thirteen years and throw his heart to the young gold-digger Nicole! What was worse was that Adalie's little sister, three-year-old Therese, named for her deceased mother who had died giving birth to the girl, had no memories of her natural mother, and was acting as if Nicole was her mother. Even Amelie was forgetting about her _real_ mother, and was getting friendly toward Nicole. Adalie wasn't going to give in to the evil plot Nicole had of stealing a family away from a dead saint of a woman. She vowed to always remember, and honor the memory of her mother. She'd do that by first never, ever, treating Nicole as anything other than an interloper who'd seduced her father and had brainwashed him. She'd teach Amelie and Therese about their _real_ mother, so they would recognize the imposter for who she truly was - an opportunistic poor girl who was trying to find security by being a mistress and whore to a modestly-wealthy widower. She would resist the conniving overtures of friendliness from the usurper.

"Addy," Nicole countered, ignoring the grinding jaw signaling intense anger in the teenager, "it's normal to have trouble with boys. But they're just boys, and ...."

"I don't need a lecture from _you_!" Adalie snarled. "Go away and leave me alone."

Nicole flinched. She should have been used to hostility from the eldest Vitesse daughter, but she wasn't, because despite her best efforts, Adalie continued to reject wholesale any and all approaches by Nicole, no matter how small. "I'm trying to be your friend," she said, trying to sound calm and soothing. "I can _never_ take the place of your mother."

"You can't fool me," Adalie quickly retorted. "You're trying awfully damned hard to take mother's place - first with Papa, and then with sweet little Therese, and then Amelie. It won't work!"

"I want to be your friend, not your mother!" Nicole countered.

"Go away! I hate you! Do you hear me? I _hate_ you!"

Nicole recoiled from the vitriolic words spilling from Adalie's mouth. She should have been used to the vile hate-filled speech by now, but it still stung. "Your father approached me," she said, forcing calm into her voice. "I didn't pursue the wealthy widower, as you seem to believe. He missed your mother, and he was lonely. He had a difficult job of raising three girls without his wife by his side. But it was his initiative, not mine."

"A likely story," Adalie snapped. "Go away! Or can't you understand that I don't want you here? This was ... my and Mere's special place! I don't want you here - ever!"

Saddened, despite expecting such an exchange, Nicole stood and turned back to the house. Her normally-sparkling hazel eyes were heavy with sadness, and her pretty features reflected a lack of joy. She _couldn't_ put herself between Jacques, who she loved with all her heart, and his daughters and their memories of their real mother. And yet, that's where she found herself all too often. She also knew, and had communicated to her lover Jacques, that Adalie desperately needed counseling to deal with her grief. In over three years, she hadn't gotten over losing her mother, and yet, when they had tried counseling, Adalie clammed up, refusing to talk to the counselor about her feelings or sense of loss. The girl was on a one-way path to destruction, her intense feelings and loss eating at her until there'd be nothing left of her. She knew that later, when she and Jacques had some privacy - probably in bed after the girls were asleep - she'd have to try to convince Jacques to try counseling for Adalie once more. She knew that she could use her feminine charms, and delightfully attractive body, to convince Jacques of nearly anything, but she also knew that she dare not do that with Adalie's problem. They'd have to reason this out together, not have him agree without thought after sex.

May 15, 2006
L'ecole de Chaniers

Adalie waited outside the school building, her eyes searching the crowd for a particular person. Around her, many of the students paused as they passed her to say hi, or to smile, and some of the boys strutted past like peacocks, trying to get her attention because they fancied her. Alas, she had eyes for none of the other boys, and her expression was guarded, but some sparkle returned when she saw Jean-Michel striding confidently, and handsomely, out the door, his back pack slung casually over his shoulder. The same Jean-Michel who was the grandson of Vitesse's master distiller Pierre LeClerc. They had known each other from childhood, because Pierre often brought JM, as everyone called him, to the distillery when school wasn't in session, and he and Adalie used to play together. Adalie's heart raced, and she stepped toward the object of her affection, carefully timing her steps.

Her plan worked almost perfectly. She stepped into his path innocently, and the two bumped - not hard, but enough to startle Jean-Michel and to allow Adalie to fall backwards to the ground, feigning that she'd been bowled over. "Oh, I'm sorry, Adalie," he said in a heartfelt apology. He extended his hand to help the poor girl to her feet. "Are you okay? You're not hurt, are you?"

Adalie allowed herself to be pulled up, and overdid straightening up so she lost her balanced and fell into Jean-Michel's arms. "No, I'm okay, JM," she purred. "I'm just lucky to bump into someone like you, who's kind enough to help me back up and who's worried that I'm okay."

"Unlike Georges, who'd probably kick your backpack and scatter your book and papers? And then laugh, like he did in fifth grade?" the grinning boy commented.

Adalie's eyes widened. She hadn't known that he would remember her humiliation under the fifth-grade bully, Robespierre. "If I'd have had you to protect me then ...."

Jean-Michel laughed, a pleasant, happy sound that was music to Adalie's ears as it always had been. "I would have been on the ground beside you," he chuckled. "Remember, I was a scrawny, little boy at that time, and Robespierre was much larger than either of us."

Adalie beamed up at Jean-Michel, who was half a head taller than her. Taller, and much better looking, at least in her eyes. She always compared herself to the top two girls in her class, and in her view, she came up woefully short of their beauty. She didn't realize that, to the rest of the class, she was nearly as attractive as the top beauty, and a lot more personable.

As Adalie opened her mouth to reply, intending to say something flattering to Jean-Michel, one of the two class beauties sidled up beside him, and wrapped her arms around his left arm, clutching him possessively. "I was looking for you, JM," the newcomer, Lorraine Poirier, cooed to him. She was looking up into his eyes, an expression of absolute adoration on her face as he looked at her. Jean-Michel blushed at the outward display of affection from Lorraine, especially in front of Adalie.

"I'm very sorry about knocking you down," Jean-Michel repeated his apology.

When Jean-Michel wasn't looking at her, Lorraine turned her focus to Adalie, and her hate-filled eyes shot daggers at her rival for the boy's affections.

Adalie flinched at the overt display of hostility from Lorraine, and Jean-Michel noticed her suddenly-intimidated expression. He glanced to where Adalie was looking, but by the time his gaze reached Lorraine, she'd pasted a phony, sweet smile on her face and looked ever so cherubic, as if she was incapable of hostility to anyone!

"Come, Jean," Lorraine cooed. "You promised me you'd help me with my math homework." Purring, with one warning glance at Adalie, Lorraine led Jean-Michel away from the school.

Adalie sighed to herself. Why was it always like this? She was so much nicer than Lorraine, but Jean-Michel couldn't see past the fact that she'd developed a little earlier, and had nearly perfect champagne-glass sized boobs, an enviable, nearly perfect derriere, and a perky but phony smile that could charm its owner out of a murder charge even if she were found standing over a dead body with a bloody weapon in her hands with five witnesses to the crime.

"Give it up, ma cherie," Colette said, having drifted unnoticed to Adalie's side. "He's not worth it, not if you have to compete with Lorraine. Everyone knows she's a bitch, but she's cute for the boys, and they can't see her wicked side."

"A girl can wish, can't she?"

"If wishes were fishes ...." Colette laughed. "Come. Let's go to my house and we can study."

Adalie sighed. "Okay. But we'll go to my house. Daphne was going to bake some eclairs this afternoon, and she's making something special for dinner and dessert. If we're lucky, she'll let us sample."

"You're lucky to have a cook who used to be a chef," Colette said without thinking. "With my mother working ...." She suddenly realized what she'd said, and her eyes widened in shock. "I'm so sorry, Addy," she said, spinning to wrap Adalie in her arms. Adalie's family had only gotten domestics after her mother had passed away and her father, by himself, was unable to care for his business, the house, and raising three daughters. Colette's careless words had reminded Adalie of that bitter fact.

"I know," Adalie reassured her friend. Inwardly, the words were like daggers in her heart, but she put on a brave face for the sake of her friend. She turned the conversation to one of the girls' favorite topics - pop groups and their songs, as the two walked casually through the streets of Chaniers toward the outskirts of town, where the Vitesse manor was situated.

As they passed an alleyway, Colette halted suddenly, and then grabbed Adalie's arm. "Come, Addy," she whispered urgently, glancing around to see if anyone was looking their way. The two girls dashed into the narrow passage, and then ducked into a large doorway of a business. No sooner were they off the street than Colette's hands were holding Adalie's face as the two locked lips, Colette being the more eager and enthusiastic of the pair of girls.

After two or three minutes of smooching, including playing tongue-tag, Adalie drew hear head back from Colette. "We shouldn't," Adalie said, but her voice betrayed some confusion.

"Why not?" Colette asked, trying to pull Adalie back into another passionate exchange.

"Because ... I like boys, and I'm not bi. At least I don't think I am."

"The way you kiss, I'm not so sure about that," Colette giggled. "Anyway, you can consider this practice for kissing a boy, like you always do," she argued. "Besides, you can't tell me that you don't like kissing."

"Well," Adalie said hesitantly, "I ... I've only kissed one boy."

"Henri Dumond," Colette said with certainty, and more than a little displeasure. "And you did _far_ more than just kiss him."

Adalie turned away from Colette. "Please don't talk about ... him."

Colette hugged Adalie from behind. "Oh, ma cherie, I'm so sorry. I knew you'd ... fooled around with him, but ..."

"He's a self-centered, egotistical ass," Adalie snapped. "He never really liked me. All he wanted was ...." Her voice trailed off as she fought the bitter memories of her first real crush, a boy who had wanted her for nothing more than sex. And she had been stupid enough to give it to him. Once satisfied, he lost interest in her completely.

"I know," Colette said tenderly. Gently, she turned Adalie around and hugged her. "I know he just used you. But he's a boy, and that's what boys do." Her lips sought those of Adalie again, and the two exchanged another long kiss.

"Uh," Adalie began, her legs trembling and her breathing ragged after the sheer passion of Colette's kiss, "JM isn't ...."

"Jean-Michel just wants to screw Lorraine," Colette snapped. "Anyone can see that! She's too much of a bitch to be someone's real girlfriend, but she's too gorgeous for the boys _not_ to want to fuck her brains out! And JM is a normal boy, with normal ... urges."

The two girls, still a little flustered from their kissing, strode back into the main street of Chaniers, and through the small town, bypassing Colette's house on their way to Adalie's. Within two blocks, a window on the second floor of a building opened as the girls neared, and a head thrust out, looking directly at the two girls. "Adalie," an attractive older woman said, "you must come in and visit for a few minutes."

Adalie looked up and smiled. "Bonjour, Madame Rousseaux. How are you today?"

Madame Yvette Rousseaux smiled at the girls. "I am bored," she said simply. "An old woman gets lonely without company! I'm waiting for a couple of potential clients to make up their minds, although if one decides to not hire my services, I would have no regrets. They're a bunch of Philistines! Now, come up for coffee, my dears, and grace me with the company of la belle de Chaniers for a few moments."

Adalie blushed at the old woman's description. "I am not la belle de Chaniers," she protested, embarrassed. "There are many girls far prettier than me."

"Nonsense! You are as pretty as they come - a beauty like your mother."

Adalie glanced at Colette, communicating in just a look that she really wanted to visit with Madame Rousseaux. Colette shrugged indifferently, so Adalie led the girl into the building and up to the second-floor apartment of Madame Rousseaux.

Almost in unison, the two girls sipped the steaming coffee cups Madame Rousseaux had set in front of them. "How are your classes going, Adalie?" the older woman asked. Her eyes sparkled with an energy that belied her apparent fifty years.

"Classes are classes," Adalie said with obvious lack of interest. "I have some difficulty with math, but I can't see how math will be useful."

Madame Rousseaux chuckled. "You'll be surprised at how often you use math, especially if you still intend to study interior design and architecture."

"Yes, Madame," Adalie replied enthusiastically. "I'm very interested in what _you_ do. I think it's neat and creative, and I would like to be a world-famous interior architect like you."

The old woman laughed. "No need to flatter an old woman, since I don't have any coffee cake or snacks for the two of you."

"It seems like fun," Adalie said uncertainly. "I can't think of another career I would like."

"There are drawbacks," Madame Rousseaux chuckled. "If you work for a company, you have to do what the company wants, even if it is boring, unartistic work for a bunch of Neanderthals. And if you freelance, like I have, you'll have a little more flexibility of what type of work you do, but sometimes, after you have a contract with a client, they'll decide that the concepts they loved are too expensive, and they'll want you to design something like white walls and cubicles! Bah! Philistines!" It wasn't stated, but it was clear that she was probably speaking of one of her current or recent clients.

"I'll have to get into a good school," Adalie offered to distract from Madame Rousseaux's frustration. "I've heard that Ecole d'architecture Athenaeum is a very good school."

"It's one of the best," Madame Rousseaux agreed with a wry smile. "I went there, you know."

"Yes, I know," Adalie said, blushing slightly.

"You'll have to have good marks in school to be accepted. But that's not the only good design school. I bet you can name a dozen or more top schools in Europe. But there are some very good schools in the United States, too," the older woman added.

Adalie's face clouded. "No!" she said emphatically. "I would rather not go ... there!"

"But why?" Madame Rousseaux asked.

"Because ... they killed maman!" Adalie cried, losing a battle to contain her tears.

"Adalie, it wasn't the Americans. Only one doctor!"

"Trained by their stupid medical schools," Adalie countered bitterly. "If it hadn't been for that American doctor in Saintes, maman would be alive!"

"I know you still feel her loss," Madame Rousseaux said softly, placing her hand on Adalie's. "But you can't blame all Americans."

"They're all stupid!"

"What happened, if you can tell me?"

Adalie wiped at her tears; memories of her mother always caused her to cry since she missed her mother so much. "They say that maman had something called a placenta previa," she sobbed.

"I understand that's when the placenta blocks the cervix no?"

"Yes. When maman went into labor a few weeks early, the stupid American didn't even test to see if things were okay. She tore her placenta, but because of the previa, she was bleeding to death inside, while there was no sign to the stupid doctor. No-one knew that she was bleeding to death until they had to do a C-section, and by then, it was too late! A proper doctor arrived in time to save Tessa, but it was too late for maman! The idiot American doctor killed her!" Adalie was crying uncontrollably at the painful memories.

"Adalie, I know it must hurt you a lot," Madame Rousseaux tried to console the girl, "All Americans cannot be responsible for the mistakes of the one doctor." It wasn't sane, or logical, but to a ten-year-old, which was how old Adalie had been at the time, it was emotionally necessary to affix blame somewhere. Time hadn't lessened her antipathy toward the United States, and the suggestion that she might attend an Interior Architecture school in the US was abhorrent to her.

"You have talent, Adalie," Madame Rousseaux complimented the girl, changing the subject back to design school. "Your father showed me what you had done with your bedroom and that of your sister, and his home office."

Adalie blushed at the compliment. "It was fun. I would have done more ...." She didn't have to continue; Nicole had vetoed Adalie's redesign of some of the general living areas. She wanted _her_ villainous, usurping touches to stay to remind the girls that Nicole was the woman in charge of the household - or so a young Adalie rationalized in her irrational hatred of Nicole.

Yvette Rousseaux sat at her table, sipping her now-cool coffee after the girls had left. Adalie had many, many problems to overcome, not least of which was her unresolved grief for her mother, and the resulting hatred of anything American and her distrust of Nicole, who, Yvette knew, was a sweet woman who was just what Jacques Vitesse needed in his life. If only Adalie could see that her father wasn't replacing her mother, and never would, but was addressing his own loneliness, and doing what he thought necessary for his precious daughters to have a female role model in their lives. Yvette knew also that Adalie had rejected Nicole as a role model, but had instead started looking up to Yvette as that missing mother figure. It was touching, and Yvette enjoyed the girl's company, but for reasons she couldn't tell Adalie, she couldn't let the girl get too close to her.

The Vitesse Home

Adalie sat in her bed, a small light clipped to the open journal in her lap, casting a faint glow on the pages. Across the room, Amelie slept soundly, and she heard no sound from down the hall in her father's room or in little Therese's room. It had been an emotionally-trying day, like so many of her days were, and she struggled to catch her thoughts.

I miss you so much, Mother. There's not an hour of any day that I don't wish you were still here with us. I still don't understand why you had to go, and even Father Boucher can't give me an answer that makes sense. He tells me that God needed you in heaven, but we need you so much more.

I am trying my best, Mother, to make sure that Mel doesn't forget. Sometimes, she seems to think that Nicole is her mother, and it upsets me greatly when she doesn't remember you. I know Papa needs to have someone around; I'm old enough to know that he needs companionship, but it seems that he, too, is forgetting you. I hate Nicole, because she is robbing Mel and Papa of their memories of you, and she's trying to make me forget you, too. I am so glad to know your friend, Madame Rousseaux, because when I visit with her, she tells me many stories of you when you were young. Whenever we talk, I feel like I know you better, and I feel happier, but also sadder, because I know you and I would have shared these stories sitting under the tree and talking like we used to do.

I really feel bad for little Tessa, Mother. It's not fair to her that she'll never know you, and will never have memories of all the special things you did with me and Mel. She only knows Nicole, who is trying to act like she's Tessa's mother. I try to remind her that she's not, and sometimes, I'm afraid I get too angry with her. Papa sometimes gets upset with me for not being more respectful to her, but I can't forget you and act like she's my real mother. I know I shouldn't, mother, but I hate Nicole for stealing memories of you from Mel and Tessa, and even Papa.

Adalie set down her pen as her vision wavered. She reasoned that she was too tired, that she'd had too long a day, but the feverish feeling told her otherwise. Surely she wasn't ill; there had been nothing going around town or school, and no-one around the wine fields, or distillery, or around the house, was ill either. She thought about whether she should go down the hall and talk to her father, but before she could decide, she slumped over, unconscious.

May 16, 2006

A cool, damp cloth on her forehead woke Adalie up, cutting partially through the brain fog in which she'd been swimming. She reached to push away the dampness, but failed, finding that her limbs were unusually weak. She tried to twist her head away from the cloth, and partially succeeded, enough so that bright light flashed through her partially-open eyelids, stabbing into her brain with intense discomfort, making her flinch again. The damp cloth moved, following her head motion, until it was blocking the light again. This time, Adalie didn't fight against the unfamiliar fabric and cool wetness, but instead, let someone's hand gently turn her head back to the initial position.

"What ... wha ...." Adalie tried to speak, but her throat was a little sore, and even the slight noise and motion hurt her head greatly.

"Shhh," Nicole's voice whispered, causing Adalie to flinch and sending another wave of pain through her head. "You've got a fever, so rest a little."

"No," Adalie insisted, wincing at the stabbing sensation in her skull. "I have to go to school," she added in a whisper.

"No, ma petite," Jacques Vitesse's voice whispered from the other side of Adalie. "You're ill, so you need to stay home."

Adalie protested by trying to push herself upright, but her muscles failed her and she collapsed back to bed. The motion jarred Nicole's hand, and the washcloth came off her head. The girl instinctively opened her eyes to look at her father, ignoring the pain. "I'm okay, Papa," she insisted, even though merely speaking was an adventure in cranial agony.

Monsieur Vitesse flinched visibly when he saw Adalie, and the girl noticed his reaction. "What is it, Papa?" she asked, curious and suddenly worried. When he didn't say anything, she looked at Nicole, and the expression she saw unnerved her a little; Nicole looked a little frightened.

"Get a mirror, Nicole," the elder Vitesse said simply, surprising Adalie with his request.

Nicole looked at Jacques, and then at Adalie, and back to Jacques. "Yes," she croaked, before glancing once more, frightened, at Adalie and scampering off.

"What is it, Papa?" Adalie asked again, even more nervously.

Before her father could reply, Nicole returned with a hand mirror, which she handed to Jacques. Adalie noted that the mirrored surface was pointed away from her.

"You're going to be okay, ma petite," he said to Adalie. "It's ... probably nothing serious."

Adalie glanced at him, reading his nervous expression and hearing his voice quavering slightly, and then she looked at Nicole, who seemed positively scared. With a shaky hand, she reached for the mirror. Before she turned it to see her reflection, she glanced again at her father for reassurance.

Adelie had soft, inviting brown eyes, the kind that bespoke of innocence and warmth and could elicit a protective response in guys. At least, she had _had_ brown eyes. Now, however, her eyes were steel-blue, a bluish-gray tint that was alien to her. She glanced up at her father, fear radiating from those new eyes. "What ... what happened to me, Papa?" she stammered.

"I don't know, ma petite," Jaques Vitesse said uncertainly. "But ...."

"But ... what?" Adalie glanced at Nicole, and read the fear in her eyes. "Am I ... a mutant?" she asked hesitantly.

Jacques glanced uneasily at Nicole, and then looked back at Adalie. "You might be," he said slowly. "It is one possible explanation for your fever and the change in your eye color."

"It's the _only_ possibility," Nicole said, her voice trembling.

"Do you notice ... anything else about yourself?" Jacques asked, trying to focus on anything but Adalie's eyes.

"No," Adalie answered. "I was writing in my journal last night, and I ... felt dizzy and like I had a fever, and then ... I woke up." Her eyes widened and she glanced around herself, feeling at the covers, searching. "My journal! Where is it?" she asked frantic to find the book containing her most personal feelings, including the incriminating remarks about her antipathy toward Nicole.

"I put it up on your desk," Nicole replied to calm the girl down. Instead, it heightened her look of panic. "And no, I didn't read anything. I just closed it and put it aside." She gave a half-smile to try to reassure Adalie. "I know a girl's diary is private, and I respected your privacy - no matter how tempted I was."

Adalie dropped the mirror into her lap, her hands trembling, her steel-blue eyes wide with fear. "Papa, what's happening to me?" Her head dropped into her hands as she started to cry.

Jacques immediately sat on the bed beside Adalie, putting his arm around his daughter and pulling her close to him. "Everything will be okay, ma petite," he said over and over, clinging tightly to his daughter, even as he wondered what it meant that Adalie was possibly a mutant.

Nicole glanced uneasily at Jacques. "Perhaps we should call the Bureau de la Commission Francaise des Mutants," she suggested, "since they will know what to do."

The elder Vitesse's eyes widened at his naive, uninformed thought. "No!" he snapped instantly. "Not unless we know that Addy is a mutant!"

"But why? They are the experts in this area."

Jacques shook his head, looking more nervous at the thought of the French MCO intervening than he had at the possibility that Adalie was a mutant. "There are ... rumors ... that mutants - children - _have great troubles_ when that bureau investigates." He didn't manage to suppress a shudder of terror. "They operate under the strange system of so-called justice where mutant children are automatically assumed guilty unless they can prove they are not harmful, and they _always_ accuse mutants of being harmful or dangerous. It is ... barbaric ... the way they treat children!"

Adalie looked up at Nicole, stunned at what her father was saying. She'd expected that Nicole would be anxious to push her off to be someone else's problem.

Nicole's eyes widened in surprise and shock. "I ... I didn't know," she stammered. "Are you sure?"

Jacques nodded. "There are too many stories to be JUST rumors." He saw the uncertainty in Nicole's eyes. "What would Therese do? Would she hand over Addy to a bunch of ... thugs ... based on suspicion that she might be a mutant? Or would she protect her daughter?"

It was uncharacteristic of Jacques to invoke his departed wife's name, which let Nicole know how serious he considered the matter.

"She would protect her daughter, no matter what," Jacques continued with a grim expression. "We will not take a chance with them," Jacques decided immediately. "But how ...?" He shook his head, puzzled. "If she doesn't go to school, she will be missed, and the authorities will investigate, and _they_ will call the MCO!"

Nicole didn't even need a moment to think. "Out," she barked at Jacques. "Addy and I need to check some things."

"Huh?"

"Out!" Nicole repeated, more sharply.

After Jacques left Adalie's room, Nicole turned to Adalie. "Get up and disrobe." She saw the confused look on the girl. "We need to see if there are other ... changes. So get up."

Ten minutes later, Nicole let Jacques back into the room. Adalie sat on her bed, back under her covers with her knees updrawn to her chest. "The only change that we can see is her eye color," Nicole reported with relief. "I have an idea of how to deal with that."

"What?" Adalie and her father asked simultaneously.

Nicole smiled. "Simple. I will get some tinted glasses for Addy to hide her eyes."

"But ... she can't wear them ...."

Nicole's grin grew. "We will tell the school that a doctor diagnosed an eye disorder - perhaps extra light sensitivity - and Addy has to wear the glasses at all times to avoid repeats of the migraine headache which kept her from school today."

Adalie frowned. It was her Mother's place to solve problems for her, not Nicole's. And her father had to intervene to let Nicole know that the French MCO was _not_ an option She shuddered at the thought of being turned over to the MCO; there were far too many rumors that circulated around school and around town about kids who had simply disappeared, even though the agency claimed it never saw the mutants. The French MCO was possibly the most feared organization in the country. And Nicole had asked about consulting them about Adalie.

May 17, 2006

Adalie woke when her alarm clock sounded, and she crawled from under the covers. Across the room, she heard her sister Amelie start to stir. Adalie sighed; it would be a race for the bathroom, to see who got the long shower and hot water. Hearing Amelie crawling from under the covers, Adalie made up her mind, and dashed into the bathroom so _she_ could go first.

Despite still feeling a bit warm, Adalie felt quite refreshed when she opened the bathroom door to allow Amelie her turn.

The look she got from her sister was total shock and disbelief. "That was ... quick," Amelie said cautiously, her eyes fixated on the novelty of Adalie's blue-gray eyes.

"Quick?" Adalie exclaimed. "I had a nice, long, hot shower. You must have been lazing in your bed too long!" She marched past her astounded sister to her room to dress for the day. She dressed, as usual, for school, taking time to fix her hair and makeup, and then went downstairs to the kitchen, surprised that Amelie wasn't done with her shower by the time Adalie was dressed. As expected, Daphne was already at work in the kitchen, and the heavenly aromas gave hint to her usual masterworks for breakfast. "Bonjour, Daphne," Adalie said happily. Long ago, when Adalie had begun to learn to cook from Daphne, the former chef had insisted that Adalie use her name instead of a formal title.

"Bonjour, Adalie," Daphne replied lightly. "It looks like you feel much better than yesterday," she commented lightly, her back toward Adalie as she bent over the oven momentarily. After closing the oven door, she turned, looking toward Adalie, and she froze, the smile vanishing from her face. "Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed softly as she crossed herself. "So it _is_ true?"

Adalie was alarmed by Daphne's reaction. "Daphne," she said, stung by the reaction of her friend and cooking mentor, "Something strange made my eyes change color, but I'm still me," she protested softly.

"You _are_ a mutant?" Daphne asked cautiously.

"We don't know for certain," Jacques' voice sounded from the doorway. "And we are not going to run around town spreading rumors, are we, Daphne?" Though it was phrased as a question, sort of, the implication in Jacques' words was clear. Daphne was expected to remain loyal to the Vitesse family as she'd always been, just as they'd been loyal to her throughout her employment with the family.

"No, monsieur," Daphne said quickly to reassure the family that she wasn't going to betray their trust in her.

"I'm still the girl who loves to cook with you," Adalie added quickly. "The only thing different is that my eyes have changed color."

"But ... that only happens to mutants!" Daphne protested weakly, still a bit frightened.

"Please don't be frightened of me," Adalie pleaded. "I haven't changed, and I still want to learn cooking from you." She wiped at a tear that came from fear of being rejected by her friend and mentor.

Daphne looked at the pleading expression on the girl's face, and her heart melted. She stepped forward and wrapped Adalie in a hug. "And so you shall," she said, hoping her voice sounded more confident that her heart felt. Mutants were bad, she knew. The French MCO constantly warned people about the dangers they posed, and that American show, "Tales of the MCO" showed clearly how dangerous mutants could be, and what the MCO worldwide did to protect normal people. But this was Adalie, her friend, someone who looked up to her.

The elder Vitesse stepped to Adalie and pulled her to an embrace with him. "How are you feeling this morning?" he asked, his voice dripping with concern.

"Much better, Papa," Adalie answered.

Jacques put a hand on Adalie's forehead. "You still feel a little warm, ma petite," he said reprovingly. "So no school for you today. Besides, it gives time for Nicole to get you the glasses and a note so that your eyes remain hidden when you return to school tomorrow."

"Yes, Papa," Adalie said reluctantly. Even though her grades weren't the best, she hated to miss school, because it meant missing opportunities to talk with Jean-Michel, or her many other friends, and she feared falling further behind in math, her weakest subject.

"Now, sit down for some breakfast, which Daphne has been slaving away to create for us." He gave Adalie a kiss on her forehead, and then scooted her toward the table. "What do you have for us this morning, Daphne?"

"Crepes Florentine, buttermilk biscuits with an apple compote," Daphne replied, "and, if you are still hungry, I have smoked salmon left over from the other night."

"Since you won't be in school today, perhaps you would like to assist Daphne in the kitchen, and perhaps she can teach you how to make these dishes?"

"Oh, Papa," Adalie said, rolling her eyes in exasperation, "Daphne taught me those dishes over two months ago."

"Then she should cook a meal for dinner tonight which you haven't made, using new techniques, so that you continue to learn," the elder Vitesse chuckled.

Within minutes of the dishes being set on the table, Adalie was finished with her first helping before her father had taken even two bites, leaving him, Nicole, and Daphne gawking in amazement and disbelief at her. "What?" she asked, looking around uneasily at the adults who were staring at her.

"You ... ate so quickly!" Nicole stammered.

Adalie winced at the accusation. "No," she denied. "I ate like I always do!"

"So why is it that we were all served at the same time, and you are finished, whereas Nicole and I have only begun?" Jacques asked.

"My portion must have been small," Adalie said defensively. "That has to be the reason, because I'm still hungry."

Jacques exchanged confused looks with Nicole and Daphne. "No," Daphne said, sounding a bit concerned. "It is the same portion I usually serve."

"You'll have to wait until Mel eats, because she has to get to school," Nicole said, eliciting a frown of disgust from Adalie. She _hated_ taking orders from Nicole.

"And since you have time today while Nicole gets your glasses and note and such, you can help Daphne cook breakfast for Therese, and more for you if you're still hungry," Jacques suggested with a wink to his daughter.

"I'm probably hungry from not eating much yesterday," Adalie said as an excuse. "And since you won't let me go to school, I'll be glad to help Daphne." Adalie smiled as she took her plate from the table; she loved working in the kitchen with Daphne.

May 18, 2006
The Vitesse Winery

"Papa?" Adalie called as she wandered through the cavernous aging cellars of the winery, still adjusting to the amber-tinted glasses she was wearing. She hated having to wear glasses, and worse, she hated that she'd had to rely on Nicole to get them for her. Her disgust with everything that had happened made her resent the fact that Nicole had taken extra time to find a very stylish pair Nina Ricci frames instead of any of the more common American designers.

Monsieur LeClerc had informed her that her father was supervising racking wine from one barrel to another as it aged, which Adalie knew was a labor-intensive task when done the traditional way, using a siphon instead of a mechanical pump. Her father, like many of the more traditional vintners, believed the pump damaged the wine, and thus used the older technique to maximize the taste of his wine.

The wine cellars were cool, tunneled into the rock beneath the estate to provide the temperature-controlled environment required to produce the flavorful wine used to make the cognac that was well-known and widely regarded throughout Europe, as well as the award-winning Pineau aperitif wine that the estate made in much smaller quantities and only sold locally.

"In here, Addy," her father answered from ahead of Adalie. Through a doorway, she found her father and two workers, finishing siphoning the wine off its lees, the residual yeast and sediments from the fermentation that had settled to the bottom of the first aging barrel, transferring the wine into a second, new barrel. It was a delicate task; the more careful the siphoning, the less need to put a fining agent into the wine to help clarify it, and thus the less chance of any foreign taste being introduced in to the wine. Jacques Vitesse was a master at this precise task, wasting precious little wine from the original barrel and getting almost no sediment transferred through the siphon.

As soon as the siphon hose was removed, one of the workers attached a sling to the almost-empty barrel to move it off the rack of barrels so it could be either cleaned for reuse, or sold, while Adalie's father and the other worker hammered a bung into the new barrel to seal the wine from the air, the first step in preparing the freshly-filled aging barrel to be transferred to a new rack of barrels.

The first man didn't see that the sling holding the old wine barrel wasn't properly fitted, and as the hoist pivoted to swing the barrel off the rack and into the open work space, the sling shifted again. To Adalie's horror, she saw the wine barrel start to slip from the sling, and even without a working knowledge of geometry, she knew that it was very likely going to bounce off another barrel on the floor and carom right into her father.

Adalie didn't scream or think. She had to get her father from under the barrel which was starting to fall. Instead of panicking, Adalie had one of those moments where world seemed to be moving in slow motion, or her reactions seemed a little supercharged. She dashed to her father, bowling him over to knock him out of the way of the barrel which was loose from the sling and falling. Father and daughter crashed to the ground, followed almost immediately by a crash. The heavy oaken barrel, its staves saturated with wine and still containing a couple of gallons and all the sediment, smashed into the spot where, only a fraction of a second before, Jacques Vitesse had been standing.

For a brief few milliseconds as realization that Adalie had knocked him over, Jacques inhaled to scold Adalie sternly for running into him as she had, but the sound waves of the crashing barrel and the remaining liquid splashing onto him cut short his reproach. He lifted his head, and saw the smashed staves of the ruined barrel where he'd been standing, and he realized that his daughter had just prevented a serious injury, or possibly even saved his very life.

The worker who'd been operating the electric hoist hadn't seen everything, as the upright arm of the hoist and the control cables and lines obstructed some of his view, but the man who'd been helping prepare the newly-filled barrel saw every detail. "Mon Dieu!" he mumbled at the sight.

Adalie pulled herself up, and looked at her father, knowing that she was in trouble, and yet not knowing anything else she could have done. The impact with her father had been far harder than she'd anticipated, and she was surprised that she'd been able to get both of them from where the barrel had hit. And she felt like she'd moved far faster than she ever had before in her life. Instead of feeling the pain of having been crushed by a falling wine barrel, she felt some bruising from where her body had hit her father. "Are you okay, Papa?" she asked hesitantly, even a bit fearfully.

"Yes, ma petite," Jacques Vitesse said as he inventoried the aches he felt. "It appears so, apart from a few bruises." He gawked at the broken wine cask. "How ... how did you ...?"

Adalie shook her head. "I don't know, Papa," she stammered rapidly. "I saw the cask slipping, and I knew it would hit you if I didn't do something."

Pieces clicked in Jacques' mind. The color-change in her eyes. Amelie's statement that Adalie had never before taken so quick a shower. The speed with which Adalie had eaten her breakfast, and the quantity she'd eaten. Her frenetic and extraordinarily quick lunge to get him out of the way of the falling barrel. Something about her had given her fast reflexes or extra speed, and the only candidate that seemed to fit all of the puzzle-pieces was clear - Adalie really was a mutant.

Jacques Vitesse glanced nervously at the two workers in the cellar with him. His decision was instantaneous. He hugged Adalie tightly. "I'm so glad you have good reflexes from the football you play in physical education," he said convincingly. "I doubt my old body could have reacted as quickly as you, or Reynard or Christophe! I am grateful that someone quicker than me was here."

He shot a glance at the two workers, Reynard and Christophe, telling them with his icy look that his story was the official one. "Now, I must go fill out the paperwork for the near accident. Stupide bureaucrats!" He sputtered. "Always paperwork for the government!"

Putting on a show of steadying himself on the arm of his daughter, Jacques glanced over his shoulder. "Finish up moving what we have transferred, and then after lunch we shall continue racking the wine."

As he left, he didn't see the worried glance exchanged between Reynard and Christophe. One hadn't seen the accident, so he was inclined to take the elder Vitesse's word, but Christophe _had_ seen the entire incident. He _knew_ that Adalie had moved quicker than anyone he'd ever seen, and with her bluish-gray eyes, he suspected that perhaps there was more to the story than Jacques Vitesse was telling. As soon as the two Vitesse family members were out of earshot, the two began to discuss what they'd seen in hushed, conspiratorial tones.

May 19, 2006
The Vitesse Home

"How are you feeling this morning?" Jacques asked sweetly as Adalie came into the kitchen.

"Better, I think," Adalie replied, looking around the kitchen. "Is there any coffee ready?"

Daphne took a brief break from the stove and poured a cup of the life-elixir for Adalie. "Would you like cream or sugar?"

"No thank you," Adalie said, reaching for the cup and taking a long sip. "Mmmmm," she purred. "Just what I need."

"How about an omelet?" Daphne asked.

"Yes," Adalie agreed between sips.

"Better make it two," Jacques chuckled. "Remember how much Addy ate for dinner last night?"

Adalie gave a mock frown. "Oh, Papa, I wasn't _that_ bad!"

Nicole chose that moment to enter the kitchen. "Yes, you were," she observed, sidling up beside Jacques and slipping her arm around his waist.

If her father was sensitive to how his displays of affection toward Nicole hurt Adalie, he gave no indication, as he leaned toward Nicole, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her to a kiss. Disgusted and angered, Adalie turned away from the two, her lower lip trembling with rage. It was, to her, just another demonstration that Nicole was trying to replace her mother.

While the adults kissed, Adalie tried hard not to look, but instead slipped into a chair at the table with her back very deliberately toward her father and Nicole. Daphne took the hint from Adalie's actions, and plated an omelet for Adalie so the girl could at least eat - if Nicole and her father's affection hadn't completely spoiled her appetite. Everyone who worked on the estate, from household help to the staff of the winery and distillery, knew only too well how Adalie felt toward Nicole.

Amelie came in to the kitchen, allowing her backpack to slide down her arm onto the floor beside the table, and then easing gracefully into a chair. Unlike Adalie, she was facing toward her father and Nicole, and she didn't seem to care about what they were doing. "What's for breakfast?"

"Omelets," Daphne noted. "There's also toast with cherry preserves."

"Did you find out anything else about the MCO yesterday when you were in Saintes?" Jacques asked Nicole.

Nicole nodded, a grim expression on her face. "In our region, there have been seven reports of children disappearing to the MCO after they mutate."

Jacques sighed. "That's what I thought. The consensus seems to be that a mutant is a villain until he or she can prove to be a hero, and even then, remains under suspicion." He shook his head sadly. "The sentiment is very strongly anti-mutant, especially in smaller towns. In cities like Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, or Nice, people - and officials - are a little more tolerant, but ...." He didn't need to finish the sentence.

"You forgot your glasses," Nicole reminded Adalie when she noticed the girl wasn't wearing them.

Adalie glared at Nicole for a moment; it was another of those times when her mother should have been reminding her, not some pretender. Instead of saying anything, Adalie dashed from the kitchen to retrieve her eyewear ...

... only to return seconds later from having run through a couple of rooms, up the stairs, down a hall to her room, and back.

Nicole, Jacques, and Daphne were staring at her.

"What?" Adalie asked, annoyed at the way Nicole gawked.

"You ... did you leave your glasses in the hall? Or maybe in the living room?" Jacques stammered.

"No, Papa," Adalie answered firmly, "they were on my dresser."

"Impossible!" Nicole stated flatly. "You couldn't have run up to your room and back that quickly."

Jacques, however, wasn't so positive. "Ma petite," he began slowly, addressing Adalie, "would you please run up to your room again, and return?"

Adalie's eyes widened at his strange request. "Yes, Papa," she answered. Again, she left the room, and within four seconds, she was back.

"C'est impossible!" Daphne said, her mouth ajar.

Jacques shook his head at the cook's statement. "No, I have heard of mutants who were tres rapide," he speculated. "Perhaps Adalie is such a case." When he saw the looks of disbelief he was getting, he continued. "It would make sense, yes? How else could ma petite have pushed me aside from a falling barrel yesterday?" he asked.

Nicole thought a moment. "If this is true, Addy," she said solemnly, "then you must be very careful to not let anyone see you moving so rapidly. It would give away that you are a mutant, just as thoroughly as your eyes."

Adalie ignored Nicole, and looked straight at her father. "I promise to be careful, Papa," she said, snubbing Nicole with her words and gestures.

"Put on your glasses," Nicole directed Adalie.

The girl shot a brief withering stare at Nicole before she reluctantly put the glasses on.

"Mais oui," Jacques exclaimed softly. "You are tres belle!"

"Oh, Papa!" Adalie said, blushing. "I'm not that attractive, especially with glasses."

"Oh, but you _are_, Addy!" Daphne chimed in. "Your glasses make you look very ... sophisticated! You look like a movie star or a model! You'll have Jean-Michel kissing your feet to be near you!"

Adalie's cheeks burned at that idea. Not that she didn't want Jean-Michel to be paying attention to her. More because she didn't want her father and Nicole to know that she was interested in Michele's affection.

L'ecole de Chaniers

Slowing down, resisting the urge to move at a pace which seemed natural to her but also much faster than it had been only days before, was far more of a challenge than Adalie had anticipated. She'd expected it to be easy, but as she walked between classes, she found herself getting antsy to move more rapidly than what seemed an agonizingly slow pace.

"You could have just as well stayed home," Adalie heard Lorraine's snippy voice calling out. "After all, you have little going for you, so why bother?"

Adalie spun toward the bitchy girl. "You're not in charge of the school or who comes and goes," she snapped, "and your opinions - wrong as they are - don't matter to me."

"No," Lorraine laughed, "but I have far better grades, and especially now that you have those ... those _things_ on your face, I'm far more stylish than you!"

Adalie's blood pressure rose. "I won't take the word of a ... a slut, over my friends!" she hissed.

Lorraine, rather than getting angry, just laughed in her face. "You should talk!" she chortled. "After all, I wasn't the one who slept with Henri!" She saw that she was getting under Adalie's skin, and decided to take things up a notch, especially when she saw Jean-Michel walking toward the two. "I'll tell you what," Lorraine taunted Adalie, "we'll let JM decide. If he thinks those ugly glasses are stylish, then I'll apologize - if he even notices." She grinned. "But I doubt he will, because they _aren't_ stylish. I think they make you look like a two-franc whore!"

"You should talk!" Adalie shot back. "I've seen entire troupes de clowns de cirque using less makeup than you've plastered on your face to try to make yourself marginally attractive!"

Lorraine's eyes flared, showing her rage at Adalie's impudent comeback. She expected people to defer to her simply because she was entitled, or so she believed. Despite her seething anger, she controlled her facial expression well so that Jean-Michel couldn't see that she'd lost her cool. "JM," she purred as she sidled up to the rather handsome youth. "We were just talking about you."

"Oh?" the boy asked, suddenly nervous and suspicious. Having the top two rivals in the school talking about him couldn't be anything good.

"Yes," Lorraine continued in her best sexy voice. "We were just discussing how men never notice anything when a girl changes, like _hairstyle_ or _new clothing_."

"Or other changes," Adalie said, careful to not mention her glasses as she maneuvered herself directly in front of the boy, looking up into his eyes.

Jean-Michel glanced nervously between the two girls. "Oh, you got glasses?" he said to Adalie.

"Yes," Adalie said, pausing to glance at her rival, her eyes shooting daggers momentarily. "I had some migraines," she cooed, "and the doctor realized that my eyes are too sensitive to light now, so I have these to help. Do you like them?"

"I think they're ...."

"Do you like my new dress, JM?" Lorraine interrupted, pulling herself close to him by grasping his arm with both of her hands. "My aunt got it for me in Paris." She glanced at Adalie with a smug smile over her shoulder as she turned Jean-Michel away from Adalie and tugged him down the hall.

Adalie wanted to scream in frustration and anger. Lorraine had done what she always did - get Adalie to react, and then manipulate the situation to come out ahead. She took a couple of steps and leaned against a wall. "Aaarghhhh!" she growled. "That ... cunt! That manipulative little whore!" Around her, students were glancing warily her way, skirting a bit around her as soon as they saw her stewing at the side of the hallway. Everyone knew what put Adalie in these types of moods.

"She got to you again, didn't she?" Colette said as she eased up beside Adalie.

Adalie started at the sudden presence of her friend. "She's a bitch!" Adalie snarled.

Colette laughed. "Yes, and everyone knows that. And everyone knows that she always manages to make you mad." She smiled. "I like your glasses. They make you look like a movie star."

"At least someone does," Adalie snorted. "I think they're ...." She paused suddenly, staring at a spot across the hall. For several seconds, she stood still, silent.

"Addy?" Colette asked, feeling a bit nervous about how Adalie was acting. "Addy?"

"Huh?" Adalie said, snapping her head around to Colette. "What were you saying?"

Colette shivered for some unknown reason. "You just ... froze. You stopped talking, and were just fixated on the wall."

Adalie felt her own shudder. "It was nothing," she tried to be lighthearted. "I was just thinking, and I had this weird feeling that someone was going to try to hurt you."

Colette shrugged. "You worry too much, ma cherie. Shall we go riding for a while?" Her family ran a horse boarding facility, keeping horses for many local families and providing a riding business for those who didn't own horses of their own

Adalie nodded. "Yes. And I know I worry, but lately, it seems like my worries are more specific than usual."

"What is there to worry about?" Colette scoffed.

The perpetual scowl that adorned Henri Dumond's face deepened as he saw the two girls, Adalie and Colette, duck into the shadows between two buildings. Adalie was his, or so his dimwitted mind believed. If she hadn't been such a bitch about things, they wouldn't have split up, and he'd have one of the best, if not _the_ best, girlfriends in Chaniers. It fit him, he knew, because he was one of the better built and better-looking boys in Adalie's grade in school even at fourteen, and he _deserved_ a hottie like her as a girlfriend and bed-partner. Because of his egotistical nature, he was completely incapable of seeing that the breakup had been _his_ fault, for treating Adalie like property, and then, after he'd managed to sweet-talk her into sex, bragging to his buddies about shagging her, causing a black mark on her reputation.

Curious, and still frowning, Henri slipped around the corner to an alleyway, and then quietly crept down the alley, looking for the two girls. He stopped cold, goggling the sight in front of him. In a recessed doorway, Adalie and Colette were making out, Colette kissing Adalie like Henri should have been - at least in Henri's mind, and cupping one of Adalie's breasts with her hand. His frown turned into an angry sneer as he realized that Adalie wasn't protesting, but was kissing back - not as enthusiastically as Colette, but she was a participant in the energetic exchange.

Henri's jaw trembled with rage. So _that_ was the reason that Adalie had left him - she'd been seduced by that scheming, no-good Colette! If it wasn't for that bitch, he'd still have an attractive girlfriend worthy of himself. For a brief moment, Henri considered interrupting the two girls' kissing practice with a fist to Colette's face, but as he'd been in trouble a few too many times for unprovoked assaults on other kids, he paused to consider. There _had_ to be another way to teach that girlfriend-stealing lesbian bitch a lesson she wouldn't forget! Or to get her out of the way a little more permanently. Despite being a few steps short of being bright, Henri knew better than to just kill his rival for Adalie's affections. He had to arrange an 'accident.'

He backed down the alleyway a few steps and ducked into the shadows, to where he could still see the girls. After a bit, they disengaged their lips and, holding hands, turned back toward the street. Henri followed them stealthily, watching as they walked happily, giggling, which angered him greatly. He stomped angrily to the main street, back to where he'd originally seen the girls walking between the buildings. Unless they were being extra-devious, following them would be no problem.

It wasn't, because the girls didn't have any reason to suspect they were being followed, and Henri held back some distance from them.

Ahead of the stealthy watcher, Adalie and Colette walked through the street, happily giggling over jokes and discussing pop bands and boy idols, although in Colette's case, it was more about female lead singers and solo artists. Occasionally, the two would lean into each other with a friendly bump, and every time, Henri growled with rage. The two were far too affectionate for just friends.

Adalie was going to Colette's house, just outside of town, and for a moment, Henri wondered if he should continue following the girls, but when the two started holding hands, rage clouded what little judgment Henri possessed. He sneaked behind a tree to watch the two girls enter Colette's house, and he was left wondering what he could do. Before he could decide whether it was worth it to stay or he should give up his fool's errand, the girls came out of Colette's house, giggling, divested of their backpacks and snacking on something. The girls strode from the house to a low outbuilding, which, from the fenced area behind it and the animals standing about, was a small horse barn. Henri scowled; Colette, he _knew_, was another of those rich bitches whose family had multiple horses and many, many hectares of land.

The girls, laughing and smiling, walked easily into the barn. Henri slipped over one stone wall, and crept upon a second one, crouching behind it and glancing periodically at the barn. It didn't take long before the two girls emerged, each holding the bridle of a freshly-saddled mount, wearing riding helmets and still chatting happily. Slowly, a plan formed in Henri's mind, a simple but effective way to get Colette out of the way, even if only briefly. Then Adalie would pay attention to him, and he'd have a girlfriend again - one who'd already demonstrated that she'd put out for him, too!

Henri fast-crawled behind the wall until he was at a point where the girls couldn't see him. He raised his head and gazed over the riding area, about a hundred hectares of open field and a few small copses of trees. If he timed things just right ....

Henri waited impatiently, and eventually the girls rode past his hiding place, oblivious to his presence, and still prattling on about singers. He was close enough to hear that Colette thought Pink was hot, and wished she could meet the American-born singer if she ever toured in the area. Adalie, however, wasn't as enthralled by her, preferring instead Raphael and Chimene Badi, the latter of which seemed to be agreeable to Colette. Everything he'd seen so far confirmed for Henri that the rumors of Colette being lesbian were accurate. He smiled smugly as he wondered what _that_ fact would be worth later.

The horses walked slowly along a well-worn trail, directly toward a wooded area fifteen or so meters distant from Henri. He could see that the path went into the woods, so, having picked up a relatively decent-sized rock, he waited until the girls were in a line between himself and the woods, then he stood, and living up to his athletic reputation, hurled the rock with some force.

Startled and spooked by the rock hitting its flank, Colette's horse whinnied sharply and bolted, instinctively running from the sting in its hindquarters. Surprised, Colette was nearly thrown from the horse, managing to hang on through some miracle. Adalie, on the horse beside her, wasn't so lucky, as her horse reared when Colette's started. She landed ignominiously on the ground, and it took a second to realize what had happened.

"Colette!" Adalie called as she sprang to her feet. Colette's horse was at a full gallop, and going into the trees, with plenty of low branches that could knock Colette from the horse - or worse. Without thinking Adalie darted after her friend, not thinking at all about what she was doing.

Some last-second ducking by Colette avoided a couple of branches, but Adalie knew that her friend's luck would probably run out before the horse calmed down. Colette had lost the reins and was desperately clinging to the saddle's pommel, trying to regain some balance to avoid falling.

Dodging trees so she could get beside the horse, Adalie sped through the woods, closing on the runaway horse. She grasped for the loose reins, and missed when she had to dodge around a small tree. The horse seemed a bit spooked by Adalie's presence as well, which made her task even tougher. On the fourth try, Adalie grasped one of the reins, and using that, began to pull back to stop the pall-mall gallop, without causing the horse to run in circles since only one rein was being pulled.

Barely breathing hard after her mad dash, Adalie eased the horse to a trot, and then to a walk before stopping the beast. She grabbed the other rein for good measure, and then looked up to Colette. "Are you okay, ma cherie?"

"How ... how did you do that?" Colette exclaimed sharply.

With her free hand, Adalie absently pulled off her glasses, wiping her brow on her sleeve. "I don't know," she said. "Adrenaline, probably." Not realizing that her glasses were off, she looked up at Colette. "The important thing is ...."

Colette's eyes were wide as saucers, and a look of near terror filled them. "Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed sharply, drawing back in the saddle away from Adalie. "You're ... you're a ... mutant!" she mouthed softly.

Adalie realized what she'd done, and she cringed. "I'm still me, ma cherie," she reassured her friend as she hastily put her glasses back on.

"Get away from me!" Colette said, her voice echoing with extreme fright. "Get away!" she repeated as she shied even further back on the saddle.

"Colette," Adalie began, hurt by Colette's reaction.

"Go away, you ... you ... gene filth!" Colette cried frantically. "Don't hurt me! Just leave me alone!" She grasped at the reins, tugging them from Adalie's hands, and wheeled the horse, looking with terror over her shoulder as she did so. "Go away!"

"But ... ma cherie!" Adalie started to protest.

"Don't talk to me, mutant!" Colette hissed, and then she urged the horse into a gallop away from the stunned Adalie.

Ten long minutes later, Adalie walked her horse up to the horse-barn. She started to enter, but Colette shook her head, still mortified at Adalie's presence. "Just ... just tie the reins to the door handle," Colette said, her voice trembling. "And go away!"

"My ... my books, ma cherie," Adalie protested weakly. "They are in your house!"

"Have ... have your sister come to get them. Unless she's a filthy mutant, too!"

"But, mon amie ...."

"Don't call me that!" Colette said insistently.

"Please, Colette," Adalie was in tears, and near begging, "I'm still me. I'm not evil or anything."

"Go away! Or I'll call Papa to get his shotgun!" Colette threatened uneasily.

Adalie's heart was breaking at the sudden change in the way Colette was treating her. In one instant, in trying to save her friend from harm, she'd exposed herself as a mutant and had her friendship rudely rejected. "I'll go. But please, Colette," Adalie repeated, her voice trembling as she pleaded, "for the sake of our friendship, can you please not tell anyone else?" With tears pouring down her cheeks, Adalie hung her head and trudged from the horse barn toward the road, pausing once to glance over her shoulder, hoping desperately that Colette would come after her and apologize. Alas, it was not to be, and as she started bawling, Adalie turned and ran away from Colette's house, and toward the refuge of her own home.

Behind her, Henri stood by the wall in absolute shock. He hadn't heard - he hadn't been close enough - but he knew that something had caused a major rift between the girls. As he replayed the events over and over in his mind, a few facts slowly coalesced - Adalie had, on her feet, chased down a galloping horse to save her friend. There was only one way that Adalie could have done that. Henri's eyes widened as he realized, slowly, that Adalie must be a mutant to be able to run that fast. And then it dawned on him that her sudden illness, followed by her appearance with glasses, was because she'd just manifested, and her eyes must have changed, as he believed happened with all mutants. Henri felt a churn of emotions. On the one hand, he could use Adalie's secret to get whatever he wanted. On the other hand, she was a _mutant_, a freak, a blight upon humanity! He didn't know what he wanted more - sex with Adalie in exchange for his silence, or getting rid of the mutant menace in their town.

The Vitesse Home

"It'll be okay," Jacques said after giving Adalie a kiss on her forehead. "I talked to Colette's parents last night when I picked up your books. They made her promise not to tell anyone."

Adalie shook her head slowly, fighting tears. "But Papa," she sniffled, "Colette was ... my best friend! And she ... she was so mean! Now I have no friends in the school, and I have to hide ... what I am. What if they find out? Or if someone else saw ...?"

"You worry too much, Addy," Nicole interjected. "Who could have seen? And you were in school yesterday and no-one noticed."

Adalie's shoulders stiffened and her jaw clenched at Nicole's words. She was presuming to be Adalie's mother again, or so it seemed. A slight jerk of her head very obviously turned her away from Nicole and toward her father. "Do you really think it will be all right, Papa?"

"Of course it will, ma cherie," Jacques. "Now, get your books and go, before you're late."

Nervously, Adalie slung her backpack over her shoulder, and with a hesitant smile at her father, trudged out the door.

Adalie was grateful for Amelie's presence when the two walked past Colette's house, and unlike the daily routine of the past, Colette didn't come running out to meet and walk with the two Vitesse girls. Adalie fought the misty-eyed feeling she had, which intensified into a heartbreaking pang when they heard a door closing behind them, and turning, Adalie saw Colette, her nose in the air disdainfully toward Adalie. Her former friend made a production of walking on the opposite side of the street from the Vitesse girls, accentuating the sense of loss Adalie felt.

Amelie's unexpected hand-squeeze was reassuring. "It'll be okay, Addy," the younger girl said, her words and her grasp the only things that kept Adalie from breaking into tears and fleeing home. Her head hanging low in grief at losing a friend and shame of what she'd become, Adalie continued to plod forward, urged on somewhat by her little sister, toward school.

Fortunately for Adalie, they'd arrived late enough that the students were all filing into their classrooms, so there was no need or pressure for Adalie to remain in the hall trying to pretend she was happy. A few students glanced her way as she walked, causing her to flinch, and for the most part, she ignored the greetings directed her way.

By coincidence, Adalie's seat in her first class was beside Colette's, so as the two girls sat, their expression reflected widely different emotions. Adalie glanced at Colette, her eyes pleading sadly for Colette to not shun her, while Colette's icy demeanor and cold glance let Adalie know that the girl was still very upset. Adalie looked back forward, wondering how long Colette would keep her promise and say nothing.

Two rows behind them, Henri Dumond watched the wordless exchange between the two, smugly watching as Colette angrily, visibly shunned Adalie. It wasn't quite his plan, but it had separated the two. Now if only he knew which way to go - to expose Adalie, or to 'persuade' her to get back together with him. As his eyes traced Adalie's developing curves, Henri's rational brain was overcome with his lust for the brown-haired hottie. He decided what he needed to do.

Class ended, and the students streamed back into the halls. Colette was still avoiding Adalie, sufficiently blatantly that the other students were starting to talk about the apparent rift between the two best friends. As she walked out the door, Adalie felt a hard shove, and then something grasped her hand momentarily and closed her fingers around something. Her quick reflexes pulled her hand away from the large hand that had grasped her. She glanced at her hand, and then looked around again, seeing no-one and nothing suspicious. Frowning, Adalie stepped to the side of the hall and opened her hand. She opened the small, folded note and read.

Meet me in the stairwell after math to talk about horseback riding.

Adalie's heart leaped into her throat, and she felt weak. This wasn't Colette's handwriting - in fact, she didn't recognize the writing - and besides, Colette wouldn't have been so devious and subtle, especially since the girl was still being icily distant from Adalie. She looked around nervously, frightened, to see if anyone was looking at her, or at least suspiciously doing so, but she saw only the normal bustle of students swarming through the halls between classes. Trembling, Adalie crumpled the note and shoved it into a pocket, and walked, shaking slightly, to her math class.

The class dragged even more slowly than normal; Adalie had never enjoyed math, and considered that particular class to be the longest part of her day, bringing its own unique brand of hell in the form of boring lectures, puzzling quizzes, difficult homework, and truly tortuous tests. That day, math seemed to take five times as long as it normally did; Adalie wondered, briefly, if her speed was adding to the sense of prolonged time, or if it was her unease over the anonymous note with its foreboding message.

As soon as the agony that was math ended, Adalie stepped nervously down the hall, avoiding eye contact with any other students as her gaze darted around, searching for a clue - any clue - about who had given her the note. Trembling with fear, she ducked into the stairwell.

"Ah, ma belle," Henri said warmly as Adalie stopped, eyes wide with fear when she recognized his hulking presence.

"What do you want, Henri?" Adalie snapped.

"Is that any way to talk to your boyfriend, ma cherie?" Henri asked with a wicked, knowing grin.

"We broke up, in case you forgot."

"Ah, but I think you will want to get back together with me," Henri leered. "Unless you want others to know about you outrunning a horse!"

Adalie's heart nearly stopped. Someone _had_ seen her! But that would have required that Henri had been nearby, which was in the field, which meant ....

"You! Somehow, you spooked Colette's horse!" Her hand drew up to her open mouth almost instinctively, blocking the gaping maw caused by her shocked realization of an unpleasant truth. "She could have been killed!"

Henri shrugged, still grinning. "Accidents happen," he said nonchalantly. "Now, let's see what's behind those glasses that you don't want to take off." He reached slowly, deliberately, toward Adalie's tinted glasses, but she flinched away. "Ah, ah!" Henri scolded her, his voice cold as an ice cube. "Take them off, or I'll let the whole town know _what_ you are!"

Adalie shook with fear at his ultimatum, uncertain of what to do for several long seconds. Finally, frowning angrily, she reached up and slid her glasses off.

"Very nice!" Henri said lustily. "I definitely approve of your eye color. It's quite sexy!"

"What do you want, Henri?" Adalie demanded as she stood, glowering at him.

"Very simple, ma belle," Henri cooed. "You're too pretty to _not_ be my girlfriend, and we should get to know each other quite ... intimately." His leering eyes made it clear precisely what he was after.

"You expect me to be seen with you, is that it?" Adalie asked, her voice quavering.

"As a start. And I expect that we'll spend considerable time kissing, and when we have complete privacy ...."

"No!" Adalie hissed. "Never!" There was no mistaking his intentions that the two would be very sexually involved as part of his little blackmail scheme.

Henri was unfazed. "Oh, I think you will, ma cherie," he said, grinning confidently. "If one friend would turn on you because of this, what do you think the town would do, eh? Now, how about a nice kiss to resume our relationship?" He leaned forward toward her mouth, eagerly seeking to taste her lips.

Adalie saw no way out. Choking down the rising bile in her stomach, shuddering with revulsion, she allowed the brutish, clumsy oaf Henri to kiss her.

May 20, 2006
L'ecole de Chaniers

Her stomach churning in anticipation of yet another intra-class session of Henri groping her ass as they walked between classes, Adalie caught Lorraine eyeing her warily. The girl was up to something, Adalie knew, and she wasn't anxious to find out what. Her day was already crap. Colette hadn't changed her antagonistic behavior toward Adalie in the slightest, the other students, having seen the behavior of Colette and Adalie, were paying extra attention to her in an effort to understand what had happened to the previously-inseparable friends, and Henri was blackmailing her. The good news was that there was only one class left in the day. The bad news was that she expected Henri to make some type of unreasonable and disgusting demands of her once school let out.

While she fumbled along, wondering what Henri was going to do this break, Adalie bumped into Jean-Michel, but this time, she ran into him. Being considerably smaller, she rebounded off the larger boy, and seeing her stumble, he caught hold of her arm to steady her. "You're distracted," Jean-Michel said casually. "Be careful, Addy."

"Oh, sorry," Adalie spat. "I wasn't paying attention."

"Yes, everyone has noticed. And that you and Colette are not speaking to each other now." Jean-Michel sounded concerned about the state of affairs between the two girls; they'd been close friends since first grade. "Is there something wrong?"

Her attraction for Jean-Michel almost - almost! - caused Adalie to confess to him, but after having seen Colette's reaction, she dared not tell anyone else. Being a mutant was already enough trouble, what with a lost friend and being blackmailed by Henri. "No," she said, shaking her head sadly. "Not really."

Jean-Michel smiled at her, a smile warm as the sun and cheerful as a rainbow. "Well, I'm sure you two will work things out," he said confidently. "By the way, I realized that I never did say what I think of ...."

He never finished what he was about to say; Lorraine came barging in, bumping Adalie aside so she could wrap herself around his arm. "It's too bad that your _only_ friend isn't talking to you, dearie," she purred to Adalie. Jean-Michel couldn't see Lorraine's face, so he wasn't aware that her eyes were narrow, angry slits and shooting daggers at Adalie.

"I still think your glasses are ugly," Lorraine said snootily, "but some girls think they're fashionable. Perhaps ...." She got a thoughtful look, and then, without warning, snatched Adalie's glasses from her face and started to put them on.

She froze, belatedly, as Adalie clawed for the tinted glasses. Lorraine's expression slowly changed from smugly self-confident to surprise, and then to fright. The glasses slipped from Lorraine's hand. Beside her, Jean-Michel's face registered his shock at Adalie's appearance. "What's wrong with you?" Lorraine asked. "Your eyes ... they've changed! Are you ...?" Her eyes widened in horror. "You're a ... a .... You're a ... mutant!" she stammered loudly enough that anyone within ten meters could hear her.

Adalie cringed at Lorraine's words, and realized that, even worse, her speed and enhanced reflexes had caused her to snatch the falling glasses out of the air.

"Mon Dieu!" Lorraine exclaimed, looking at the glasses in Adalie's hands, and then back at her steel-blue eyes. "You're a .. a ... a _mutant_!" Reflexively, she backed away from Adalie, behind the shield of Jean-Michel. "Get out of here, gene filth!" she screamed.

Adalie glanced around and saw that everyone was staring at her, riveted by the conversation. Now _everyone_ knew that she was a mutant, both from her eyes and from Lorraine's hysterical screaming. Slowly, the shock in the crowd began to abate, replaced by something far more sinister - disgust. Adalie saw raw, burning hatred in some of the eyes as the angrier of the students slowly closed in around her, and she felt the icy grip of terror on her throat.

Panic-stricken, Adalie darted away from the crowd and fled from the school building. Behind her, she could hear some of the students crying out, "Gene filth!" and "Get the mutant!" She ran in fear for her life, across the school grounds and down the street, fleeing the mob she feared was forming.

As she sped toward home, past the home of Madame Rousseaux, she heard her friend call out sharply, "Adalie! Stop!" She was startled enough that she halted, seeing the older woman leaning out of her second-story window as usual. "Come inside! Quickly!"

It took Adalie only milliseconds to make up her mind; she zipped into the apartment building and up the stairs, knocking on the door with such a frenetic speed that it sounded like a woodpecker at work. Still frightened, she glanced over her shoulder nervously, half-expecting to see a mob with pitchforks and torches chasing the 'monster' of Chaniers.

The door opening startled the terrified girl, and she looked fearfully at Madame Rousseaux. "Calm down, child," the older woman said quickly, accurately reading Adalie's emotional state. "Come in. Hurry!"

Adalie shook her head. "But ... you will just throw me out, too, when you learn ...."

"That you're a mutant?" Madame Rousseaux asked with a knowing smile. "Come." She grasped Adalie's arm and pulled her into the apartment, closing the door behind her.

"But ... how did you know?" Adalie asked, stunned by Madame Rousseaux's intuitive guess.

"There are rumors about town that you did something impossible yesterday, something that only a mutant or someone imbued with power could do. And because," Madame Rousseaux said, leading Adalie to a sofa and gently sitting the girl down. She paused, biting her lower lip and wincing as she tried to figure out what to say, and how to say it. She decided upon the direct approach. "Your mother was a mutant, too, and she had long cautioned me that you might be as well."

"Maman - was a mutant?" Adalie asked, stunned. "But ... how? And why did she never tell us?"

Madame Rousseaux sighed. "Would you like a cup of coffee?" she asked, rising and going to her little kitchen to make two cups of coffee. "Your mother wasn't a powerful mutant, and she wanted to just live her life quietly and peacefully," Madame Rousseaux explained. "She told me that she feared this day might come, that you or your sisters might manifest, and she wouldn't be here to protect you." Her voice choked as she continued. "She ... was an esper, as she explained to me. A special esper - she had precognition. Sometimes, she could sense what was going to happen in the future."

"Did she know ...?" Adalie couldn't complete the question. Had her mother foreseen her own death? Had she made arrangements for someone to 'watch' Adalie, to be in a position to protect her, in case?

"I don't know," Madame Rousseaux said, shaking her head sadly, "but I suspect that she did, which is why she asked me to watch you."

"Did Papa know? Of her visions and such?"

Madame Rousseaux nodded. "Yes. And speaking of Jacques, I should call him to let him know what happened and that you're safe. But first, you must tell me what happened."

Adalie recounted the events of the past two days, starting with her ride with Colette, and ending with her flight from school.

The older woman winced at the tale. "And since Lorraine's father is Mayor, I fear that things could become ... ugly. She _is_ your rival, correct?"

Adalie nodded. "She _was_ my rival for Jean-Michel," she said sadly. "Now, though, since I'm a mutant, _nobody_ is going to find me attractive or desirable."

The old woman gave Adalie a stern look. "You cannot say such a thing. Look at your mother - she was beautiful, yes? And she was a mutant! Despite that, your father found her attractive enough to marry and have a family with. So don't you _ever_ think that you're a freak or hideous simply because you're a mutant!"

Chaniers

It was late in the evening, long after the older school kids had gone home for dinner and were no longer about on the streets, that Adalie slipped out into a back alleyway and worked her way home. She knew that her father wasn't worried, because Madame Rousseaux had telephoned him.

Unexpectedly, Nicole was waiting by the door, an anxious look on her face. Without warning, she launched herself at Adalie and wrapped her in an embrace that the younger girl found distasteful. "Thank heavens you're okay!" Nicole said, her voice cracking with emotion. "Even though Yvette called to let us know you were safe, we were so worried about you."

"I'm okay," Adalie protested, fighting to free herself from Nicole's emotional hug.

"I heard rumors in the market that you tried to injure Colette yesterday, and that you were threatening students at school today," Nicole reported. "The whole town is abuzz with talk of you, and how dangerous you are."

Adalie winced. "I'm _not_ dangerous! I _saved_ Colette! She is ... was ... mon amie. How could I hurt her?"

"I know," a masculine voice, her father's, sounded behind her. "But people always exaggerate things, and usually for the worse." He joined Nicole in a group hug of Adalie. "I am worried, though, about the fallout from all the rumors. It is probably not safe for you to go in public right now."

"So I'm a prisoner in my own home?" Adalie asked bitterly. "I haven't done anything wrong! I _saved_ Colette!"

Jacques nodded. "I know, ma cherie," he said. "But people are frightened of anything that is different, and right now, you are different."

"Will I ... _ever_ be able to go back to school?" Adalie asked in a soft, frightened voice.

"I ... don't know, ma cherie," Jacques answered honestly. "Hopefully, things will calm down some." He dropped his arms. "Now, let us go have dinner. We waited for you to get home. Daphne has prepared something special."

"Oh? What?" Adalie asked, distracted a little by the thought of eating.

"We shall see when we get to the table," Nicole said with a sly grin, which caused Adalie to frown. She hated Nicole.

Amelie and Therese were already at the table, so when the others joined them, Daphne began service. "We will begin with a special salad," she announced. "It is a mix of avocado slices, slivered roasted beets, grapefruit, and chhvre, drizzled with mint and lemon olive oil."

"It sounds delicious," Jacques said eagerly, to nods of agreement around the table. He dished the salad into small bowls, and only after everyone had food did anyone start eating.

"C'est dilicieux!" Amelie was the first to praise the dish when Daphne peeked in to the dining room to see if the family was ready for the main dish.

"Yes," Adalie agreed quickly. "Can you teach me the recipe this weekend?"

"Perhaps tomorrow," Nicole suggested, "since you won't be going to school."

Adalie's face fell at the reminder. "Oh, yes." Then she brightened at the thought of spending the day cooking with Daphne.

Once the salad plates were pushed aside, Daphne returned, this time with the food already plated. "For tonight's entrie, we have grilled citrus-marinated salmon filets with fresh papaya salsa, on a bed of rice with sautied asparagus."

Conversation slowed significantly as the family dug into the food Daphne had prepared. To everyone's surprise, Adalie finished her meal quickly, and then asked Daphne if by chance there was more, because she was feeling quite hungry.

Daphne and the others politely waited for Adalie to finish her second helping of the salmon before she returned to the table. "For dessert tonight," she announced proudly, "chocolate ganache with Nutella crepes."

"That sounds wonderful," Nicole purred in anticipation.

"Yes," Adalie agreed. "Chocolate ganache was ...." Her eyes misted, wide with horror at a sudden realization of the significance of the date. "Today is ...." She lost her battle with tears, and abruptly bolted from the table, sobbing loudly as she zipped up to her room. Jacques and Amelia watched her with knowing looks, while Therese sat, confused, and Nicole shook her head sadly.

Jacques rose from the table. "I'll be right back," he said. "Go ahead and serve dessert, Daphne." As he walked from the table, Amelie, too, slipped out of her chair and followed her father out of the dining room.

Jacques knocked on the door to Adalie's bedroom. "Ma cherie, can I come in?"

"Yes, Papa," Adalie answered through her sobs.

Jacques entered the room, sitting on the bed and rubbing Adalie's shoulders. "I know, ma cherie," he said softly. "I know it's hard. It's hard for all of us."

Adalie rolled over and sat up, clinging tightly to her father and crying on his shoulder. Moments later, Amelie crawled into his lap and wrapped her arms around her father, too, wetting his other shoulder.

"It's not fair, Papa," Adalie cried. "And ... I forgot! I was so busy with myself that I forgot Maman's birthday!" she said, distressed that she hadn't remembered such an important date.

"I know," Jacques said simply, knowing that his girls just needed to cry.

"Maman was so good. It's not fair that she had to die," Amelie sobbed.

"At least she gave us little Tessa to carry on her name and to remember her," Jacques acknowledged, tears glistening on his cheeks.

"But Tessa knows nothing of Maman!" Adalie wailed. "And she never will."

Jacques nodded somberly. "Then we shall have to make sure that we teach her, won't we?" His voice choked with emotion. "I need you girls to help teach her. Can you do that for her? For the memory of your maman?"

When most of the tears had stopped, Jacques spoke again. "We should get back for dessert."

Adalie nodded sadly. "Yes, Papa," she said, but her voice rang with uncertainty.

"Mel, scoot downstairs please." Jacques saw the look on Adalie's face that told him that he'd guessed correctly that Adalie wanted a few words in private.

After Amelie left, Jacques turned to Adalie. "What is it?"

"Papa," Adalie began nervously, "is it true? What Madame Rousseaux said? That Maman was a mutant, like I am?"

Jacques looked at Adalie for an awkward moment. "Yes," he finally said softly.

"Madame Rousseaux told me that Maman had precognition. Did she know?" Adalie continued. "About what was going to happen?"

Jacques wiped at his misty eyes again. "I don't know, ma cherie," he said softly. "I don't know."

May 21, 2006
The Vitesse Home

As a tired Adalie stumbled down the stairs, running by normal standards, she heard her father and Nicole in the dining room. Fatigue was leaving her sleep-addled brain much more slowly than she was moving, but she was alert enough to realize that they were talking about her. In a pace that seemed agonizingly slow, she crept up beside the doorway.

"Yvette called this morning," Nicole was saying. "She said the rumors around town are pretty vicious."

Jacques Vitesse agreed. "I know. I overheard several of the men talking yesterday, and I can imagine that it's worse today." His sigh was audible. "Five men called in sick today."

"And I bet they're not really sick," Nicole snorted disgustedly.

"No. At least Pierre had the decency to tell me honestly that he was nervous about Adalie being a mutant, and that he knew several men were going to call in sick because they're afraid of her."

"What are we going to do, Jacques?" Nicole asked, distress in her voice.

"I don't know," the elder Vitesse replied, his voice heavy.

"Perhaps she could stay with your sister in Paris for a while, until the rumors and ugliness cool down," Nicole suggested.

Adalie cringed at the thought of staying with Father's sister, Therese Lecuyer. There were too many Thereses in the family - Father's sister, Adalie's mother, and her baby sister. It had been purely coincidental that Father had fallen in love with a woman who shared the same given name as his sister; the coincidence became the topic of many jokes at family gatherings. The saving grace from confusion was that her mother went by Tessa, just like little Tessa now did, while her father's sister usually went by Teri. Staying with Aunt Teri would be a constant reminder of Adalie's mother, and would be unbearable. Worse, Aunt Teri worked in the Foreign Services department of the government, and frequently had to attend government dinners and functions at odd hours, which inevitably would mean that Adalie would either have to attend the functions, and deal with perverted old diplomats and their equally disgusting staffs, or stay at home alone. And she'd have no friends.

"Therese was just offered a consular position, so she's moving away from Paris for three or four years."

"Where is she going? Perhaps Adalie could go with her."

"The French Consulate in Boston. In America," Jacques said slowly.

"Merde!" Nicole swore, knowing how painful living in America would be for Adalie. "But perhaps _that_ would be good for her, to learn that les Americans aren't as evil and simple-minded as she believes them to be."

Adalie burst around the corner. "No! I won't go with Aunt Teri to America! I'll ... I'll run away and live on the streets before I do _that_!" She was hysterical at the idea, her eyes full of tears.

The adults were surprised that Adalie had overheard. "Addy, ma cherie," Father said quickly, wrapping Adalie in a hug, "we haven't made any decisions, apart from you not going to school right now."

"And when we do," Nicole interjected, "we will include you in the discussion and the decision."

Adalie turned her head away from Nicole, displaying once more her disgust with the younger mistress of her father. "Papa," she pleaded, "please don't send me to America!"

Jacques rubbed Adalie's back as he embraced her lovingly. "Ma cherie," he said softly, "the only thing we need to decide right now is getting permission from the school authorities for you to complete this year's work and exams at home, where you'll be safe. We'll worry about other things as they come."

Adalie looked up into his eyes, and then nodded, reassured by his fatherly gaze. "Okay, Papa," she said softly.

Adalie leaned back from the table, stretching and rubbing her eyes. She was fatigued from studying, and really needed to stretch her legs. She wondered, briefly, if her mutant abilities were making her even more restless than normal. Without bothering to tell Nicole, she rose and strode out of the house, going out to the road for a leisurely trot to work off some of her excess energy. What she didn't realize was that a leisurely trot to her was a sprint to others.

She found herself in town, near a small park where she often took Tessa and Amelie for picnics, and she suddenly felt nervous. If what her father and Nicole feared was true, many people in town might be upset to see her, or even hostile toward her. Adalie ducked into a small recess between two buildings, looking carefully around herself, She hoped that, with a beret and her glasses, she had a little bit of disguise that would help keep people from recognizing her.

As she peered, waiting for a lull in the foot-traffic so she could head back home without risk, she suddenly felt like there was someone behind her. She spun, just in time for a large, bulky boy to grab her wrist. "Bonjour, Addy," Henri Dumond said with a leering grin. "How very nice to run into you here."

"Henri," Adalie mouthed. "What are you doing here?"

"Is that any way to talk to your best friend?" Henri said with mock indignation.

"My best friend is ... Collette," Adalie protested, but her voice choked when she thought of how Collette had so utterly and completely rejected her.

"You mean the girl you tried to kill on horseback so you could pretend to be a hero?" Henri sneered. He watched Adalie's eyes widen. "That's what she believes after I told her that I saw what had happened," he chortled.

"That's a lie! I saved her - after you spooked her horse," Adalie protested. "_You're_ spreading that lie, aren't you?"

"But you were _so_ afraid that she'd turn on you when she inevitably found out that you're a mutant, so you took advantage of the situation to try to make her feel indebted to you, so she wouldn't reject you." He leered at her, but then his face shifted to a mask of rage. "Then you had to go and mess up a deal we made, so that I _can't_ be seen with la belle de Chaniers as my girlfriend!"

"I'm not your girlfriend," Adalie protested, struggled against his strong grip.

Henri grinned wickedly. "No, you were _her_ girlfriend, and she was _so_ infatuated with you, but you broke her heart by trying to hurt her! How would you like _that_ juicy little rumor to spread?"

Adalie's feelings, which had been badly bruised, shattered at the knowledge that Colette would help Henri and set her up. "Let me go!" Adalie screamed.

"Cry all you want, you little freak. Nobody wants to listen to a mutant!" He leaned closer as his free hand slipped up to Adalie's breast. "You may be a mutant, but you're still a very hot girl, and I'm going to enjoy all the time we spend together. Just you and me, every day, together."

Adalie turned away from his attempted kiss, and, remembering what she'd learned from her father, she brought her knee up sharply into Henri's crotch. It would have hurt him greatly if she'd have been a normal girl, but with her extra speed translating into significant momentum, it really, really hurt Henri. He doubled over, falling to the ground vomiting from the excruciating pain she'd caused him.

Without waiting, Adalie darted from the scene, anxious to not be in the area when Henri was able to pull himself upright again. She knew that the boy had a vicious temper, and after she'd hurt him like she had, he'd probably kill her. And as a mutant, she was certain that the investigation would somehow determine that it was an accident. She'd never quite understood or appreciated how much rural people hated mutants. No wonder Maman had kept her status a secret, even from her own family.

As Adalie ran toward the outskirts of town, she smelled smoke where she shouldn't have, not on a warm spring day. There was no reason for someone to have a fireplace burning at this time of year, and yet the odor was curiously reminiscent of a wood fire burning. She glanced up to see if the trees were swaying in the breeze, and followed their lead until she was looking directly upwind.

It was a small house outside of town, and the wind was blowing the smoke away from town. She knew the house well; it was the Michoud family residence; Adalie had spent much time there babysitting the two children, Philippe, two, and Stephanie, almost four. Without thinking, Adalie dashed to the house, approaching the door and banging furiously to get someone's attention, assuming someone was home.

When no-one answered the door, she ran around the house, and saw Madame Michoud tending to her garden, oblivious of the danger to her children. "Madame," Adalie cried as she ran to the woman, "your house - it is on fire I think!"

Madame Michoud looked up, and immediately was frightened by the appearance of Adalie. After all, it took no time for everyone in town and nearby to hear the rumors of the dangerous mutant girl. "What? Get away from ...." It took a few seconds for Adalie's warning to sink in. "What? My house?" She looked up and saw smoke starting to roll out of the screened-in back door. "My children!" she cried, leaping to her feet and dashing into the house.

Only seconds later, she was back outside, her face sooty and coughing from the smoke. "My babies!" she coughed. "My babies are upstairs napping!"

Adalie had seen the rejection on Madame Michoud's face, but she remembered more strongly the sweet, cherubic faces of the two youngsters who seemed to adore her, and who loved it even more when Adalie brought little Therese babysitting with her so they'd have an extra playmate. Without another thought, Adalie dashed into the house. It was fortunate that she knew the floor plan from babysitting so frequently, because thick, choking smoke filled the downstairs, obstructing vision and making it hard to breathe. Adalie zipped around the ground floor, having to fall to crawling on hands and knees to stay under the smoke as she desperately searched for the two infants.

Coughing to rid her lungs of the acrid, searing smoke, Adalie staggered outside again, right into Madame Michoud, who was crying frantically for help between spasms of coughing. After a moment of drawing in fresh air, Adalie darted back into the house.

If anything, the smoke was getting thicker. In the distance, she could hear something roaring - probably flames licking at the structure, while further away, and much fainter, she heard little voices coughing. The almost indistinguishable sound of emergency sirens was afar, and though help was on the way, Adalie knew that the children probably didn't have time. She crawled to the stairs and up them.

On the second floor, the smoke wasn't quite as thick. She reached up and opened the door to Stephanie's room, crawling in. Stephanie wasn't on her bed, but her coughs and crying drew Adalie to her like a magnet. She clutched at the little girl, holding her to her chest, slung under her, as she crawled on one hand and her knees back into the hall and toward Philippe's room. Again, she opened the door and searched the bed. Precious seconds slipped away as she searched on and under his bed. Unlike Stephanie, Philippe wasn't crying or coughing; Adalie feared the worst as she desperately sought the boy.

Philippe was curled up in a corner, and his breathing was labored. He was clearly suffering from smoke inhalation. Adalie didn't care. Adrenaline surging through her veins, she scooped up Philippe, and, after staggering to her feet, she dashed into the hall, careening off the walls and railing as she fought her way through the increasingly dense smoke. It was incredibly difficult to keep her feet under her as she half-fell, half ran down the staircase, and once on the ground floor, in zero visibility and her lungs seared by the choking black smoke, she ran as fast as she could out of the house, stumbling across the porch and falling in a heap of children on the ground.

Madame Michoud, crying and still coughing, ran to the children, taking them away from Adalie, their savior, and carrying them both away from the house.

Adalie's head was swimming from lack of oxygen as her body struggled against the smoke filling her lungs. Coughing, fighting the stinging in her eyes and burning in her lungs, she crawled after Madame Michoud, away from the house. She heard voices shouting directions, and through water-clouded vision, she saw men running frantically between emergency vehicles and the house.

Adalie struggled to her feet just as a man carrying an oxygen tank came up to her. He reached out with the mask, but as he recognized the girl, he flinched in fear, drawing back away from her. Stunned beyond belief, Adalie staggered toward Madame Michoud, who was sitting down and sucking oxygen from her own mask.

"Are they ... okay?" Adalie stammered, her throat raw from the smoke and heat.

"You!" Madame Michoud called out, her voice raging. "Get away from me, you monster! Get away!"

If Adalie's eyes hadn't already been watering, they would have started from the vicious, frightened tone of the woman whose children she had babysat so frequently. "Are they okay?" she repeated.

"Stay away from them, you filthy mutant!" Madame Michoud snarled.

"I ... I risked my life to save them," Adalie cried, stung by the vicious attitude of the children's mother. "I just want to know if they're okay."

She backed up, looking at Adalie like the girl was going to kill her, or her children, or both. Adalie looked around, and saw the medics tending to the children and Madame Michoud giving her the same look - fear, even though she was suffering from the smoke and heat, just like the children.

Adalie's frustration boiled over. "Somebody help me!" she croaked hoarsely in a curious mix of desperation and anger. "My lungs hurt," she panted, "because I breathed so much smoke." Her eyes pleading for assistance, she looked at one of the paramedics standing holding an oxygen bottle, not knowing what to do. He glanced toward an ambulance, toward someone who might be able to tell him whether he should help Adalie or not. After all, as everyone knew, she was a mutant, and mutants were dangerous. Adalie didn't wait; she staggered to the man. "I need some help for all the smoke I inhaled," she said, coughing sporadically.

Overcoming his indecision, the man handed her an oxygen mask, attached by a hose and regulator to the small tank he held, and as Adalie put it over her face, he twisted the valve. In seconds, Adalie's breathing became less labored, and the ache in her lungs faded. She closed her eyes for a moment, drinking in the refreshing, cool oxygen, even as part of her mind wondered why she'd risked her life for the children, given the way the town had been and still seemed to be treating her.

"Madmoiselle Vitesse?"

Adalie turned and saw the chief of police approaching her, looking at her as warily as everyone had. "Yes?"

"I need to get a statement from you about what happened," the officer said, his voice sounding a little accusatory.

Adalie sighed. She was starting to really dislike the people of Chaniers who had until recently been so friendly and welcoming. "I was walking home, when I smelled smoke. I followed the smell here, and saw that smoke was coming from the house. I alerted Madame Michoud, who was in her garden. She ran into the house to rescue the children, but she was nearly overcome by smoke. After I saw that she had failed to find Philippe and Stephanie, I ran in, got them from their bedrooms and carried them outside."

The police chief frowned. "And how is it that you smelled the smoke, when Madame Michoud, right by the house, didn't?" There was not even a hint of subtly in his voice; he was all but accusing Adalie of doing something suspicious.

"Have you not heard of the wind?" Adalie asked in a snarky voice? "It _is_ quite breezy today."

The man's frown deepened into a full-fledged scowl. "And how is it that you knew precisely where to rescue the children?"

Adalie had had enough of the unspoken accusations. "Because I often babysat Philippe and Stephanie," she snapped back angrily. "Everyone in town knows I babysat the children, and I often brought my baby sister Tessa - Therese - to play with the Michoud children! Ask Madame Michoud! Ask anyone - they'll tell you that I'm speaking the truth."

"Considering ... the situation," the man said, choosing his words carefully so as to not annoy Adalie any further, "I need to ask what you were doing here."

"You mean instead of hiding at my home, don't you?"

"The thought had occurred to me," he said in a voice that hinted strongly, in his barely disguised opinion, that she _should_ have sequestered herself at home and not dared to come out in public.

"I ... was on a walk."

"Oh? Where, and what were you doing?" His eyes narrowed, making him look even more visibly suspicious of her. "And were you with anyone?"

Adalie gulped nervously. "I needed to stretch my legs because I was feeling cooped up in our house."

"Is there anyone who _could_ verify your story?"

Adalie thought of Henri, who she last saw rolling on the ground in a pool of vomit, doubled over, clutching his groin. "Henri," she mumbled.

"Who?"

"Henri. Henri Dumond," Adalie said a little louder. "He ... threatened to hurt me if I didn't give him what he wanted, and he said that no-one would defend me because I'm ... a mutant."

"I see."

"I kneed him. In the crotch. And then I ran," Adalie continued her story.

"So it's not likely that he'll verify your story?"

Adalie's heart sank. She had no alibi, only the suspicion that she had something to do with the fire, since no-one else had noticed the smoke, not even Madame Michoud in the garden behind the house. "No. Probably not."

The police chief frowned, considering her explanation. He nodded slowly. "I'll need to get an official statement from you later. Do not leave town."

"You suspect me of doing something here, don't you?"

"It _is_ a possibility," the police chief said, trying to sound non-threatening. His eyes conveyed a different message, though - he didn't believe her, and considered her a prime suspect.

Adalie glanced around, to where townspeople were gathering to watch the fire-fighting efforts. Many of her classmates and some adults were staring at her, their expressions ranging from merely unpleasant to angry glares to downright hatred. "Is there anything else?"

The chief looked around, settling his gaze on the crowd as if noticing them for the first time. "Perhaps you should go home now."

"I need medical assistance," Adalie protested. "I inhaled a lot of smoke, and my lungs are very sore."

The chief glanced at the emergency people, all of whom were glancing nervously at Adalie. "You were examined and treated," he said brusquely. "Go home."

"_I_ had to ask for ...." Adalie began.

"Go home," the chief repeated, stronger. It was no longer a suggestion, but an order.

Adalie glanced nervously at the crowd again. "Could someone please escort me, just in case?"

The chief shook his head. "I'm sorry, but we're all busy with the fire."

Adalie sighed. It was clear to her that he was going to do nothing to help her through the crowd, even as ugly as things already seemed. She turned and walked to the road, the crowd parting in fear even as some of Adalie's classmates screamed hateful anti-mutant slurs at her. She didn't see any of their faces; she walked with her head down, afraid of the crowd and afraid of seeing which of her former friends were so vocally rejecting her. She didn't want them to see the tears trickling down her cheeks.

May 22, 206
The Vitesse Home

Adalie sat at her father's desk, in his small office, one of her textbooks open as she studied by herself, trying to keep up with her schoolwork, while her father was meeting with the school administrators to get permission for her to complete her school year at home. She glanced out of the office to the kitchen, where Nicole was busy with the checkbook and a pile of bills. Coincidentally, Nicole looked up, catching Adalie's eye. Nicole frowned, indicating from just her expression that Adalie should be concentrating more. She didn't need to say more; she'd already twice admonished Adalie to stay focused.

Adalie turned back to her book, a deep scowl on her face. Nicole was trying to act like she was her mother again. She wanted to scream and throw something at the smug little pretender; Nicole was _not_ her mother, and never would be. And only Adalie's mother was entitled to boss her around like that.

The ringing of the doorbell interrupted Adalie's studies and Nicole's task. "I'll get it," Adalie said, eager for a break from the tedium of studying.

"No, Addy," Nicole chided her. "I'll get it."

Adalie listened, distracted from her book, as Nicole opened the door. "Bonjour," Nicole said to whoever was at the door. "Can I help you?"

A male voice answered. "Bonjour. I am agent Delacroix, and this is agent Favager, of the Bureau de la Commission Francaise des Mutants. We are here to investigate a report of a mutant in this town."

"You will have to leave," Nicole said sternly. "Jacques is not here at the moment."

"This is the Vitesse residence, correct? And the home of Adalie Vitesse?" the agent pressed the issue.

"Unless you have paperwork, I must ask you to leave," Nicole repeated. Adalie rose and padded to the doorway, to where she could see the front door of the house. Nichole was trying to shut the door, but the two men were stronger, and kept it open.

"Here is the investigative warrant," one of the two - probably Favager since the other voice was Delacroix. He shoved a piece of paper at Nichole. "It is on the authority of the mayor and chief of police, who reported cases of assault and suspicious fire and rescue. We will speak with Adalie Vitesse." There was no hint of politeness or request in his tone - only a stern insistence.

Adalie had heard her father's fear of the MCO, and she felt fear creeping into her. She slipped cautiously into the kitchen, and toward the back entrance to the house. In case Nicole couldn't stall the men, she could slip out, into the vineyards if necessary, and wait for the MCO men to leave.

Silently, she turned the doorknob, and easing the door open, her eyes still glancing nervously toward the front of the house, Adalie slipped out the back of the house. She turned to run, to get to the vineyards as quickly as possible ...

... and found herself face-to-face with a stern-looking, large man in a dark suit. Before it could register, the man's energy weapon discharged, and Adalie's world went dark.

Somewhere between Saintes and Bordeaux, France

Slowly, painfully, awareness clawed its way back into Adalie's brain. She hurt all over, a dull ache that permeated her entire body, but her wrists and ankles particularly hurt, and something heavy pressed down on her collarbones. The swaying and bumping motion led her to believe that she was in a vehicle. She blinked her eyes open, expecting painfully bright light, but only dull, filtered light came. She opened her eyes wide, wondering where she was.

Adalie sat in what appeared to be a very large van, but this van seemed odd. The body panels seemed quite heavy, almost armored, and she was facing the rear, where it was clear that the doors _were_ armored. There were no windows, but a few small slits through which daylight filtered.

Her chair was hard metal, and as her gaze moved about her body, she could see that the pain in her wrists was because her wrists were locked in very heavy metal restraints.

"It's awake," a gruff voice - she recognized it as Delacroix from the house - snarled. When Adalie turned her head toward him, fighting the heaviness around her neck, she saw that he was sitting on a bench, watching her, a nasty-looking weapon cradled in his lap in a way that he could bring it to bear against her in a heartbeat.

"Where am I? What ...?"

A harsh slap against her face snapped her head to one side, and she tasted blood from a fresh cut at the corner of her mouth. "Shut up, mutant!" another man snarled angrily.

"Why?" Adalie asked quickly and simply, hoping to find out something, _anything_, about her situation. She flinched involuntarily as she saw a hand raise to strike her again.

"Our job is to take care of gene scum," Delacroix said with a wicked, evil grin. He was enjoying his job.

"I've done nothing," Adalie protested softly, glancing fearfully at the man who'd already struck her once.

"I wouldn't call assault, attempted murder, and arson nothing," Delacroix retorted.

"What?" Adalie cried, stunned at what he was accusing her of.

"Don't act so innocent and surprised," Faveger sneered. "You try to kill your best friend, you try to kill your boyfriend, and you stage a fire to play hero rescuing those kids. That doesn't exactly sound innocent to me."

"But ... I _saved_ Colette," Adalie protested. "And ... the boy Henri was trying to extort ... favors from me!

"A likely story," Delacroix scoffed.

"I used to babysit the Michoud children. I love them like my own sister, and they like me as a caretaker! Why would I harm them?" Adalie was genuinely confused that anyone would believe such nonsense. Then again, she reconsidered, rejection from Colette and the attempted extortion by Henri, plus the ugly mob by the Michoud house, made her reconsider. Mutantphobia was definitely alive and flourishing in the rural areas of France.

"You mutants are all alike, even to the 'hero syndrome' you always pull to try to gain public favor."

"It's so predictable. Stage an accident, and then play the hero so people will think you're not a vicious, dangerous mutant." Favager sneered at her. "We know all about the games your type plays to try to earn sympathy."

"Where are you taking me?"

"Shut yer face!" the man who'd hit her snarled, and his words were in English, not French.

"Aw, let it talk, Thomas," Delacroix chided the other man in the back in English. "It might tell us something useful." Adalie knew that there were at least three agents; one had ambushed her at the back door while Favager and Delacroix were trying to persuade Nichole. Since three were sitting in the back with her, and someone was driving, it was reasonable to conclude that the team in the armored van consisted of four or five agents - of which one was English - or American. Adalie shuddered at the thought that one of _them_ was here!

"Doesn't matter where we're taking you," Delacroix continued. "As long as we keep the mutant threat off the streets of our cities and towns."

"I haven't threatened or hurt anyone," Adalie protested. She was fighting to not tremble visibly from fear, and losing that battle. In truth, she was terrified; she'd been abducted by the MCO right from her own home, and the men seemed to be enjoying having her in their custody. "I rescued the children from the fire," she pleaded.

"Which you set," Favager countered angrily. "After assaulting your boyfriend."

The third man leaned to one side and spoke softly to Delacroix, who laughed. "I heard that, too. Serves him right for getting too friendly with one of them!"

"What are you going to do with me?" Adalie asked, her voice quavering.

"It's interesting to see how your mutants react, compared to the ones that infest America," the American said. "This one seems pretty subdued. Most of the ones we deal with are extremely violent and uncooperative. Many of them get _hurt_ during apprehension, and Dr. Hammond doesn't like losing subjects for his experiment."

Delacroix nodded his understanding. "We, too, have lost a few, unfortunately, but hopefully, these new non-lethal weapons and restraints you brought us from Goodkind Research will reduce even the few we lose. It is fortunate that you were here to demonstrate them in a field setting."

The men continued their conversation, ignoring any further questions from Adalie; after the second smack from the American, she quit trying to get information and simply tried to endure the tortuous restraining chair she was painfully strapped into. Adalie could tell, as the van wound along the roads and then onto a main highway, that their destination was far. Even though she could see nothing, Adalie was guessing they were headed for Bordeaux, since the A10 went from Saintes to Bordeaux, and Bordeaux seemed like the logical place for a regional MCO office.

A gasp of shock and dismay escaped Adalie's mouth as she realized that her father would have no idea of where they were going, and thus, would not know where to look for her. She might never see her family again. Her eyes misted, and then her cheeks became damp as tears began to flow. No doubt her father would get a lawyer, but if they didn't know where to search, how would they deliver the correct paperwork? She felt a sense of impending doom, but even then, something in her mind kept telling her that she would escape the MCO.