Cat brought me, politely but insistently, through the throng; toward the front where two girls stood. A tall, willowy, conventionally pretty girl with long wavy brown hair and light tan skin. With her stood a slightly shorter one with milk white skin and black hair who had the buxom ripe body of a hundred sexual fantasies. Although, myself, I preferred something a little smaller. Even before my burgeoning crush on my diminutive roommate. The taller girl had a regalness to her stance and gaze that I found both ridiculous and intimidating.
But her companion was the one every girl in the area found some reason to watch as if she drew their eyes magnetically.
Though no one would meet her gaze. They always looked away at the last moment. I guessed this wasn't out of kindness or respect the way their peers seemed to defer to her friend. There was clearly fear in the eyes of those few who almost, accidentally, met her gaze.
I suppose my dear roommate subscribes to the idea that any new student must be made to feel like a freak by getting the maximum amount of students gawping at her like rubes at a freak show.
Because when she stopped me, before introducing me to these two, who I was pretty sure were her friends, by the fact she dragged me to them and the pleased look they each gave her.
Although with the sexy pale one, it was much more subtle, but there.
"Ladies, ladies if you please. If I could have your attention." My new friend called out.
Nearly everyone turned to her expectantly.
"Hey!" The raven haired girl barked.
The last few heads snapped to look at Cat in an instant.
The girl motioned to Cat to continue and my new friend said, "I am pleased to announce a new student has joined us. A girl you may have heard of. A girl you may have seen perform in her popular variety act all around the country. Ladies I present to you, Miss Sam Puckell."
"I'm afraid it's still Puckett." I tried to whisper but she didn't hear me so I had to repeat it quite loudly.
Only to have her say, "What do you mean still? If it's Pucklett, it's Pucklett."
"It's Puckett not Pucklett and I said 'still' because you made the same Puckell' mistake when we met."
"I'm pretty sure you said Pikelet, and the only reason I knew it was Pucklett is because I've seen it written down." Cat said.
"It's not Pucklett or Puckell. It's Puckett." I said, beginning to truly see that this lovely sprite was odd.
"I think we'll just call you Sam, Sam. And as soon as you sort out what surname you prefer, just tell us. We know all about stage names here." She said slyly, as if we shared a secret.
"Clever compromise, Cat." The pale girl said, touching Cat's shoulder.
"Its not a stage name. It's the name I was born to." I complained.
"No one cares, dear." The pale one said, as the tall one said, "I'm quite pleased to meet you, Sam. Whatever your name."
"My name is Puckett." I said.
"I believe you." The tall girl replied.
"I'm going to wait and see, myself." The other girl said, but her lips held the merest ghost of a smile and I hoped she was joshing. But she didn't seem the jesting type on first glance, that was certain.
Cat was looking at me expectantly. Finally she said, "Don't just stand there like a haddock, introduce yourself or something."
"I'm Sam Puckett," I stressed, "I don't like talking to people or doing things. If you have any questions about me or my show it may be possible for you to find an address for Carly Shay in Europe. Even with the months it would take for a letter to reach her and a reply to come back, it will still be faster than you could expect to get an answer from me."
"Well that was simply rude." Cat said.
"I find simple rudeness is more readily understood by stupid people." I said.
The pale girl finally gave me a small but sincere smile, "You know, I've found that to be true myself."
"Jade hates everyone too." Cat said. Then introduced us. "Sam Puck-, Sam Pu-, Sam P. This is my closest bosom friend Jade West. Jade, this is my new friend and roommate Sam P."
I put my hand out. "People are the absolute worst." I said, by way of greeting.
"I'd prefer beetles." Jade replied, nodding and shaking my hand.
Then Cat introduced the tall girl. "And this is my dear friend Tori Vega. Frontrunner for student president and every teacher's cheerful little chipmunk."
Tori looked scandalized for a moment. Then her look of shock melted and she said. "I want to argue, but what can I say. I do like people and I'm not going to apologize. I'm sorry."
Jade touched my arm, saying. "If you point it out, she'll stop doing it." Just as I was just about to acknowledge that she had immediately followed a statement about not apologizing with an apology.
But clearly it amused Jade and I wasn't about to ruin someones fun for no good reason.
"Dinner, my lovelies." Nona Maree called from the stairs as she descended. "You may try to ingratiate yourselves past Sam's obvious defenses over the rest of the term. But now it is time for us to share a delightful meal. Please, join me."
"She's right." Cat said. "The food here is very good."
Nona Maree came through the crowd. Two older girls opened the doors in front of her and she entered first.
There were long banquet tables with white linen tablecloths. Each place was set with silverware on a loosely woven wool place mat alternating navy blue and burgundy with a folded white linen napkin.
There were no plates on the table but I immediately saw that the reason for this was that there was a stack of plates at the beginning of a line of chafing dishes and a carving station that had ham, beef and lamb. We walked down the line with Nona Maree first and then generally oldest to youngest. But there was no strict structure. Since Nona Maree was speaking to Cat and myself we and Cat's friends just followed her through the line, even though we were younger than many. But there was not even grumbling that I saw.
"So what do you think, Sam?" Nona Maree asked with real interest. "Do you think you could be happy here?"
"You have a truly beautiful place here, as far as I can see. All the modern conveniences. And your granddaughter, ma'am. She really is charming beyond words."
I wracked my brain for something specific to say. I'd seen polite people do that. Not just general 'everything is satisfactory' but single something out. "You really must tell me, that soap in the washroom so rich and with such a pleasant scent. Do you make it here? Or send away to Paris for it?"
"No no, it is all made on site with lye from our own wood ash. Avocado oil from our avocado grove. Flowers and herbs from our garden, and filtered kitchen fats finish it off."
I chose some corn and a baked potato. I didn't want any green beans or steamed greens. I took two rolls. There was a cucumber and tomato salad that looked good. It got me thinking about how if I was back east it would be starting to be a little more difficult to get fresh vegetables. I knew there would be a greenhouse on the property and this was sunny southern California, so I was thinking it would probably be okay.
When I reached the carving station on the end I just had them keep piling ham and roast beef on my plate. I even took a little roast lamb, even though I wasn't as fond of it as the other two.
When I sat down Jade said, "It's nice to see a young lady with an appetite like a brown bear. You'll probably have a lot to talk about with Tori." I looked across to Tori then looked down the table. I saw that Tori was the only other girl whose plate was heaped with a small mountain of food.
I clicked my fork against hers and said, "Cheers."
They were right. The food was excellent. It had a bit of an institutional flavor, but only in its simplicity. When you are trying to appeal to fifty different palates the best way to do that, especially if you are not a fancy expensive chef, is to keep things simple.
It certainly was the equal of all but the absolute best restaurants I had ever been to, anywhere in the world.
After dinner we all lined at the coathooks by the door. Everyone was shrugging into navy blue cloaks. Large circles of fabric with hoods that came down near knee length all the way around. There were two reinforced slits in the front so the girls could still use their arms.
Little Sinjin, who was collecting dishes and bussing them back to the kitchen, put her big tin basin down and ran off to get my coat from my things. As Cat said, "I'm sure they'll take your measurements tomorrow and get you yours. Nona Maree gives each of us one, as a gift. She isnt much for uniforms but she does like us to look like we're all together if we go into town or on an outing as a group."
Sinjin was only a few minutes so I was ready to go before everyone else had filed out and the four of us walked with the others.
"So what are you doing here?" Jade asked, only a little bit confrontationally.
"Carly moved to Europe. I had no plans and few prospects. So I thought I would try this place." I began.
"How did you even hear of us?" Cat asked.
"I don't know. A friend of a friend, I suppose. Performing is not exactly considered the height of appropriate vocations for a young lady. Just because women are playing women's roles now, does not mean that much has changed since the Bard's time. I was a month short of twelve and my comedy revue was just beginning as a local entertainment in Seattle city the first time a foul blackguard clutched at my bosom and said everyone knew an actress was just a whore having a rest between men."
"Men are pigs." Jade said and Cat agreed vehemently enough I knew there was a story there.
"Well you won't hear me debating that. The only male I have any use for at all is Spencer. Who's like a brother to me, you may remember him from my show."
"That stage manager gent? He seemed weedy to me." Jade said.
"That was Carly's friend Freddie. He is quite the weed, honestly. But is a tolerable soul at heart." I replied.
"Tolerable?" Tori asked, "That is certainly damning with faint praise."
"No," Cat said. "Spencer was the one you did that funny skit with where he is bent over and you are pick-a-back astride him and the two of you are covered in a great dress. Then you have your arms in the sleeves and he has his head poking out with a doll's body attached and you pretended to be mother and babe. It really was quite funny." Cat laughed as she remembered.
The other two remembered then and laughed as well, along with another girl who was a stranger who laughed and said that the skit was truly inspired and I thanked her.
In that instant I almost dropped 'invert' into the conversation. Between the vehemence of their agreement with the porcine nature of the male sex and the fact that Jade's hand strayed to Tori's waist when she said it. I almost took a chance.
Of course that was when I tripped over a fat root and the subject changed pretty quickly to me falling over.
I caught myself on the tree, so I didnt actually go down. I just scraped my palms on the rough bark and twisted my ankle a bit. Not to where it was injured, just tender.
"What the blazes is this reflection nonsense anyway?" I said loudly, then looked around to see if my language shocked my new friends. I generally am more of the 'go fuck a coachman' stripe of swearer, moreso than one who blushes after saying 'blazes'. But I was around proper ladies now.
They didnt even acknowledge it. Which was a comfort. Cat just said, "Think of it as church without the religion. We meet in the solarium, sit in rows, some of the girls in their last year of musical performance play a selection of meditative music while we sit in silence and contemplate the growing life around us or look up to the glass ceiling and contemplate the sky, the stars, and the heavens. If we are settled and do our meditations we are left in silence or very low talking. But if Nona Maree feels we are not focused she will speak, giving us things to think about."
Jade pointed up into the trees. "Not to mention the ghosts and spirits,"
I whipped around almost fast enough to fall over again. But I didn't see anything.
"Right," Cat said. "Now, I've seen colors sometimes and certainly there has been a heavy or mysterious feeling in the air on occasion. But I've never seen anything I'd call supernatural. Nevertheless, the sensitive sisters among us say ghosts and spirits gather at this time as well."
"Spiritually sensitive." Jade clarified.
"I don't think anyone would ever think you meant emotionally sensitive, dear." Tori said.