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The Ten Weeks, 30 January, Rescued from the Bullies

In spite of her immediate circumstances, Carla was a very happy teenager as she drove her business truck through Jersey Heights. The only “heights” about the town was that it was inland enough—and close enough to the hills of Collina—to be the highest municipality in the Republic of Verecunda. The terrain was flat, but her spirits reflected the town’s name as she passed through the Heights and the Collinan border crossing. From there she went onward through Collina town and down the peninsula to the Point. Crossing the border back into her homeland, she turned left and headed up to Marlowe Import and Export.
Although it was a great day to be on a long drive, with nice weather and the temperature pushing 23ºC, Carla would have rather done something else than make a delivery on Saturday. To do that, she had to get something to deliver, and that came from Marlowe’s warehouse.
Marlowe’s was about the last “industrial” type business on the Point, a status partly protected by the fact that Dick Marlowe was Lucian Gerland’s son-in-law. Carla pulled through the east entrance of the property, which was surrounded on the landward side by hedges and as many trees as he could squeeze in the margins. This obscured the fact that the warehouse was a utilitarian structure with little to commend its appearance. To the right was the dock, which was what was left of the old port and ferry terminal that connected Point Collina with the rest of the country until the Dahlia Bridge was built in the early 1950’s. Now it was Marlowe’s private dock where he could ferry goods from the warehouse to the port and vice versa, occasionally getting items off of the ship and onto the small craft before they found their way through customs.
Dick was there to meet Carla. A shade taller than his outsized daughter, his mostly Chinese ancestry was plain. Even though he was moving into his late forties, there were few grey hairs in his combed and slicked back hairstyle. In a country where being non-white was still a liability, Dick made up for it with hard work and vigorous relationship building, as shown by the fact that he opened up the business on a Saturday just so Carla could pick up the few items she needed.
“I’m sorry I made you do this, but we just couldn’t get these things through customs until very late yesterday afternoon,” Dick told Carla as she was signing the paperwork.
“I know you tried, Mr. Marlowe,” she answered, handing him back the clipboard.
“They just seem to get slower and slower every day over there. Maybe I should have thrown them on the boat.”
“That’s not the way. We’ll be all right. Thanks for opening up for us.”
“I can’t understand why the Club couldn’t just send someone over here to pick these things up,” Dick said.
“They just don’t do things that way over there,” Carla answered.
“One thing’s for sure: you sure did a great job at tennis yesterday. I know it’s Terry’s team you played, but the way you beat Denise Kendall was really impressive.”
“Thank you. I hope I don’t live to regret that. Terry played great too—she’s been playing better this year.”
“She sure has,” Dick agreed. “My biggest regret this year is that I missed it when she won the first round of the Beran Invitational. I always try to make her matches when I can—my mother said she has never played better before or since. Mother claims that she and the des Cieux girl prayed for her, and that’s what made the difference.”
“Madeleine’s prayers do get answered,” Carla agreed.
“I need to get back home—it’s been great seeing you.”
“You, too, Mr. Marlowe.” Carla put the box of parts in the bed of the truck, got in, started up, backed around, and drove out the gate as Dick closed the shipping entrance.
The Club was just across the peninsula. Carla went in the deliveries entrance. Although she gave it no mind, she went past the tennis courts and pulled into the maintenance shed.
“We were wondering when you’d get here,” the assistant greenskeeper told her as she walked in his office. Next to him was one of the course staff.
“Did the best I could,” she replied, putting the box down on the desk. The greenskeeper signed the paperwork Carla presented to him.
“Where’s your mechanic today?” Carla asked, puzzled at the lack of follow-up to her special trip.
“It’s Saturday,” he answered. “He’s off. Won’t be back until Monday. I need this thing fixed real bad—some of the rough is getting real rough. It barely gets out of the shed, sputtering the way it does.”
“Can’t anyone fix it today?”
“Nah. Union rules. Maintenance man has to do the work. If we could fix it, my man here could get the job done in a couple of hours.”
“You mind if I try to fix it?”
“Probably get me in trouble, but, hey, go ahead.”
Carla turned and took the box of parts—which was getting heavier with every carry—over to the mower. The two in the shed snickered at each other at the idea of a woman fixing the machine. Carla got the plugs out of the box, took the tools she needed and went over to the mower. About fifteen minutes later they heard the engine start, rev a few times, and then stop.
Carla put her tools back, took the other parts and dropped them on his desk with a definite if not loud thud. She then put the old spark plugs on the desk directly in front of the two men.
“It should run okay until your ‘maintenance man’ gets here. It wouldn’t hurt if you’d clean and gap your plugs every now and then.” The two men looked at each other in astonishment. “You have any place to clean up around here?” she asked.
“We don’t have a little girls room out here, but you can use ours over there.” Carla went over and washed her hands—they did have industrial hand cleaner—with the door open, which was especially useful since she was hit with the smell of urine when she came through the bathroom door. She re-emerged as quickly as she could and started heading for the truck.
“You know he’ll file a grievance when he finds out you did his job,” the greenskeeper said.
“The business agent will enjoy coming over here for the meeting, especially if you have it in the hotel,” Carla observed.
“Grievance will probably end when he finds out a girl fixed it,” the other man said.
“No, it won’t,” Carla corrected him. “The business agent’s my uncle. He knows the girl. By the way, can I use your phone for a second?”
“Sure.” Carla went back to the desk, picked up the receiver, and dialled out.
“It’s Carla. . .I’m great, especially after yesterday. . .listen, I’m on the Point, can I come over and see you on the way back to Hallett?” There was an especially long silence after that. “What’s your address. . .okay, I’ll be right over. Bye.”
“That was quick.”
“I’m going to visit a friend.”
“If it’s a boyfriend,” the other man said, “he’s got a hot date tonight.”
Carla thought for a second. “If you want to see how hot I can be, come watch me play tennis sometime.” She turned and walked out of the maintenance shed.
She turned the corner and stopped dead in her tracks. In front of the gate of her truck were Denise, Vannie, Pete and one other guy from the Point Collina tennis team. She couldn’t back out unless they moved, and they didn’t look like they were in a hurry.
“Queen of the court one day, grease monkey the next,” Denise said. They advanced towards Carla, spreading out a bit like they were surrounding her. “You get around.”
“You play a very dangerous game,” Pete added.
“That turncoat coach of yours taught you better than we thought,” Denise added. “We’ll deal with her later.”
“You’ve gotten her into a lot of trouble,” Pete said.
“And yourself,” Vannie added.
“I’ve messed around with you and your kind long enough,” Denise snarled. “I don’t ever want to see you over here on the Point again. Or in Verecunda city either. You stay in the sticks where you belong. If you don’t, we’ll turn the ‘dogs’ on you and you’ll be spitting out jungle bunnies faster than you can get to the hospital. You understand me?”
“Yes, I do,” Carla said. Her voice was cracking; she hadn’t been this frightened in a long time, not even by her own school authorities.
“Then get out of here,” Pete added. “Now.” They cleared a path and Carla sped through it, getting into her truck, starting it, and making her way out of the Club property as fast as she could. The foursome watched her until they could see her no more, then they burst out into hard laughter, doubling over.
“You see her face? She was scared to death,” Pete said, struggling to get his words out between his guffaws.
“Denise? Why can’t you just get your father to arrest her on some charge, like he does with other people,” Vannie asked.
“He won’t do it to her,” Denise replied, no longer in stitches. “I already asked him.”
Carla was in a hurry to get off of the Point. As she crossed the Dahlia Bridge, she felt her left rear tyre go further and further down. She pulled off as far as she could in the right lane next to the side walk.
The Dahlia Bridge was the absolutely worst place in the country to get a flat tyre, with no shoulders to pull into. As the cars whizzed by, dodging the stranded truck, Carla struggled to dodge the cars and take a look at her wounded tyre. She then wrestled the spare and jack out from under the bed so she could switch them out and get going again.
Falling faster than the fortunes of her vehicle were her spirits. When she left Marlowe’s, she was on top of the world: even a Point Collina parent acknowledged her achievement. Now she ran like a scalded dog, threatened by someone with the pull to make her horrible threats—and worse—stick. She was stranded in the worst possible place, struggling with the equipment she had and the fright she felt. Tears were welling up in her eyes; she just wanted to stop and have a good cry in front of the entire nation.
As she was just about to put the jack in place and start lifting up the truck, she turned around and noticed a Toyota Crown pulling up behind her. The car was a Japanese domestic model with right hand drive, which was convenient since the driver could open up and step out onto the side walk rather than the roadway, as she had done. A young black man emerged from the car and started walking towards her.
Her spirits dropped like they had been thrown off of the bridge. Denise’s threats looked all too real; Carla saw herself trapped in the maternity ward as he came closer, a feeling only augmented by the fact that he had a big smile on his face. Carla straightened herself up in front of the tailgate, bracing herself for the worst. But then the young man stopped just in front of his bumper.
“Are you Carla Stanley?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” she answered, now really worried when she found out he knew who she was. He walked closer until he was next to her.
“I remember you from the Beran Invitational tennis tournament,” he said. “I am James Bennett. I go to Point Collina. You are having trouble?”
“Flat tyre,” Carla said. “I’ll be okay, I can fix it. I’ve done it before.”
“Allow me,” he said. “Please.” Carla first stood her ground, but then she stepped aside and allowed James to replace the tyre and put the blown one in the bed to save time. He refused all further offers on her part to assist.
“Let’s have a look at this to see what’s wrong,” he said as he leaned over the old tyre. He rotated it about until he spotted something. “Looks like someone stuck a knife or something in here,” he said, pointing at the cut in the tread. “Made a slow leak.” He turned to Carla. “Someone doesn’t like you.”
“It’s Denise Kendall,” Carla admitted. “I beat her at tennis yesterday. But please don’t let that get back to her. I’m in enough trouble.”
“I won’t,” he said. “The Island is a difficult place.” He looked over at the tyre he had just installed. “Your spare is not in the best condition. You should replace it when you can.”
“I guess I’m going to the right place—I’m trying to get over to Verecunda to see Madeleine des Cieux.”
James smiled. “You will be in good hands. By the way, you are a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I am,” she replied, almost afraid to admit it but knowing it was the right thing to do.
“Christians need to stick together on the Island,” James answered. “The devil is loose these days. We need to understand that there are more important things than the colour of our skin. We will be praying for you.”
“Thanks,” Carla said. James turned around and got back in his car. He pulled out first, and as he passed around her, he waved. As his car moved forward, Carla could see the Aloxan diplomatic plate on the rear bumper. She got back into the truck, made her away across the bridge and, turning right, came into Madeleine’s neighbourhood.
The Evan Point district was one of Verecunda’s oldest residential areas. It was the place where Verecunda’s most prominent people lived from the beginning of the Republic until the 1930’s, when they began to relocate across the bay to Point Collina. Most of the frame houses that graced the neighbourhood in the Victorian Era had been reduced to scrap lumber by the hurricanes and various forms of rot the subtropics are expert at nurturing. The des Cieux house was a two-storey sky blue CBS house which was so close to the road that Carla had a little of her truck hang out in the street when she pulled up into the driveway against the garage doors.
She got out and went up to the front door, and rang the doorbell. Madeleine answered the door and opened it.
“You found the house fine?” Madeleine asked.
“No problem,” Carla replied. “Where are your parents?”
“They are out.” Madeleine paused and looked Carla over, including the various grease and dirt stains on her shirt and hands. “What have you been doing?” she finally asked.
“First, I had to install some spark plugs in a mower over at the Resort and Club,” Carla began. “Then, I had a flat tyre on the bridge. But it’s okay now.”
“You have been crying,” Madeleine said, looking at her eyes. Carla had known Madeleine long enough to know her pattern: when she first encountered you, no matter how long she’d known you, she tended to be cold and formal, then warmed up. Carla could feel the that transition happen more quickly than she had ever felt it before.
“I saw Denise at the Club,” Carla admitted. “She threatened me with. . .with. . .having me raped if I ever came back to the Point or Verecunda city again. And one of them. . .”
“One of them?” Madeleine pressed.
“She was with one other girl and two guys—they’re all on your tennis teams—and one of them must have stuck a knife in my tyre, as it went flat on the bridge. I was going to pieces, but James Bennett came along and fixed it.”
“So your white knight in shining armour was a black guy in a Toyota,” Madeleine said.
“Yeah,” Carla agreed, now amused at the thought.
“James is very nice. Papa says he is a minister in his church, but he doesn’t say anything about it at school. I think his church is something like yours.”
“Well. . .sort of, but not really,” Carla admitted. Madeleine was mystified by that comeback.
“Come on up to my room,” Madeleine invited her. They ascended the stairs. Carla couldn’t get out of her mind the amazement that, as long as they had known each other and as much time as they had spent together on the court, they had not visited each other’s house until very recently. She wasn’t sure what to expect Madeleine’s room to look like, as her friend was so different from anyone else she had ever known. She was pretty sure that Madeleine’s dcor wouldn’t be as “competitive” as hers was.
She was right in that regard. As she walked in the room, she stopped, mouth open, at what presented itself to her. Bears! They were everywhere, on every shelf and table top: stuffed bears, ceramic bears, bear motif items, modern bears, even a Soviet bear or two. Carla was almost too speechless to ask what some of them meant, but Madeleine gave some explanation as to the ones she found more special than others.
“I know you must think this is silly, for someone about to go to university to surround herself with such things,” Madeleine said apologetically.
“Now I know what I really like about you,” Carla replied. “You’re still a kid. That is precious, Madeleine, especially the way things are going now. The Bible says, ‘Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.’ That’s the way we get into heaven—we come as a child.”
“Then I must be in a very good state of grace,” Madeleine said. Carla kept looking around; she spotted a white Bible on her desk, which she had given Madeleine last year.
“Do you get a chance to read that?” Carla asked.
“Sometimes,” Madeleine replied. “It is very difficult—the English is very old, and hard to understand.”
“Sorry,” Carla apologised. “It’s all we use in our church. Some people say about the King James that, ‘if it was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me.’”
Madeleine giggled at that remark. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
“Of course not,” Carla replied.
“However, since my illness, I have found myself reading things that I had not considered in a long time.” She picked up a folio-size beige paperback book and handed it to Carla. “Papa used to read this to me, especially around the time of my First Communion.”
Carla looked at it intently. Madeleine had helped her with her French, but foreign languages weren’t her forté. “Meditations on the Gospel?” she finally made out.
“Yes,” Madeleine replied. “It is what you would call a ‘Bible study’ on the Gospels. So, when Bossuet is discussing a certain passage, I must read that part as well. But I usually do it using this Bible,” she said, handing Carla another book. That was obviously a French Bible. “A friend gave it to me when we lived in Canada. He ordered it specially for me. But it is a Protestant version, so I really didn’t want to read it. However, since I have known you, I am not so much afraid of Protestants any more.”
Carla’s heart rate took a step up at that remark. She remembered her parents’ admonition but couldn’t find it in her to pursue it just then. “Madeleine, I’ve never had a Catholic friend before either. Now, with the way things are going, I do well to have any friend. I’ve glad I’ve got you.”
“It is very hard now,” Madeleine agreed. “But you were not what I expected. You are so full of life, so willing to plunge into things such as sports and fixing things like your truck. And yet it is very obvious that God is your companion, someone you can talk to and receive strength from. I have never seen that before.”
“Madeleine, can I ask a stupid question?”
“I only hope my answer will not be stupid.”
“When you pray—when you prayed for Terry, when you prayed for the Yedd girl, how do you pray?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well. . .do you pray in the name of Jesus? Or a saint? Or what? I’m not trying to be smart; I just don’t understand your church.”
“I first start out by making the sign of the Cross and invoking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is my Catholic method. After this, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, because none of the saints have the merit of Jesus Christ, and I want to attach myself to him with all my heart and he to me with a firm and living faith. That is what I see in you, is it not?”
Carla could barely catch her breath. The statement she had been looking for was suddenly out, and she was totally unprepared for it. She felt that, if she said the wrong thing in response, she would hurt her friend, so she said nothing.
“Is there something wrong?” Madeleine asked, mystified by her friend’s silence. “Oh, yes, and when I pray for you every Friday, I light a candle at St. Sebastian’s.”
“St. Sebastian’s?”
“After school,” Madeleine explained. “Since I am no longer on the team, from the start of the season I have gone to St. Sebastian’s to pray for you to win. I light a candle and pray, but not to the Blessed Virgin now, you need the highest power.”
Carla looked at her friend in amazement. “That’s why I haven’t lost this season,” she said. “You’re too much.” She looked over at her desk again; next to the Bible was a photo of a younger Madeleine in a very colourful djellaba that covered her from head to toe.
“Is that you?” Carla asked. “You look like you’re in our church’s Christmas play.”
“We were living in Morocco at the time,” Madeleine explained. “My Moroccan friends and their parents put me up to it. They though it was amusing that a French girl would dress like one of them.”
“Now, I get lost—where all have you lived, Madeleine?”
Madeleine was the one who had to think things out now. “Let me start from the beginning. When I was born, we were living in what is now South Vietnam.”
“I have a cousin who’s over there now,” Carla said. “He’s in the American army. He was drafted.”
“It seems that this place has not been good for France or the U.S.,” Madeleine observed. “We returned to France shortly after I was baptised. When I was five, we moved to Morocco. It was my favourite place to live. I enjoyed the climate, and the people were very kind. They were almost all Muslims, and their religion is in some way like yours—austere, and of course they are forbidden to drink alcohol. When I left, one of my friends—whose father was a prominent imam—gave me this,” and she showed her a green book with Arabic writing on it.
“What is it?” Carla asked.
“It is a copy of the Qur’an,” Madeleine replied. “It is the holy book of the Muslims.”
“Can you read it?”
“My Arabic isn’t what it used to be, but yes, I can. It is a very difficult book to understand. I got to use my Arabic last year when a representative from the Palestine Liberation Organisation visited our school. He found me hard to follow, because the Arabic spoken in Morocco is different from that in Palestine, especially with a French accent.”
“Kind of like my sister-in-law from Georgia,” Carla noted.
“To some extent,” Madeleine replied with a smile. “After that, we moved to Canada, to Calgary, Alberta. That is where I learned to speak English properly. But Calgary is very cold, and I did not like the climate. After that we moved to South Carolina in the United States for one year. We lived in the same town you are going to university at, but I went away to school in Charleston. It is a very nice city, and of course much warmer than Canada. Finally we came here, but by that time we decided that it was better for Raymond to go away to school, so I stayed at Point Collina.”
“Wow,” Carla said. “I’ve always been impressed with the way you’ve moved all over the world.”
“But it is difficult to keep your friends when moving,” Madeleine observed. “Only my Moroccan friends write me any more. Some of them are going to France to university, so I may be able to see them when I am in Belgium.”
“Sorry this country hasn’t worked out any better for you than it has,” Carla said apologetically.
“I don’t understand it,” Madeleine confessed. “They want to be so progressive, so left-wing, but someone comes to them with some real experience in the world, they don’t know what to do with them, and waste their time trying to mould them to their own idea. That is why I like you—you are yourself, you are not trying to be someone else. You have your life and you have your beliefs and you live them. And,” Madeleine added, “I have never seen anyone whose tennis game has improved with less instruction and less time than yours.”
“Thanks,” Carla replied.
“Oh, there is something I would like to show you.” Madeleine got up and opened her closet, and pulled out a little some very interesting outfits, including a Moroccan one similar to the one in the photo. “These are the outfits that I wear to help teach the children French. They come from all over the Francophone world. I must confess that I enjoy wearing them as much as the children like seeing me in them.”
Carla was wide-eyed at the fashion in front of her. “Don’t we wear the same size?” Carla asked excitedly.
“As a practical matter, yes,” Madeleine replied.
“Can I try them on to see how I look?”
“Of course.” Carla started to undress, but stopped. She looked at her hands and arms.
“I’m too dirty to get into those,” Carla said sadly.
“Then you must take a shower first,” Madeleine declared. Carla had the reputation at Hallett Comprehensive of being the girl who could get ready for a date the fastest, and she showed that speed at the des Cieux house. It was no time before she was trying on Madeleine’s clothes, looking at herself in the full-length mirror, and both of them laughing the afternoon away.
Carla finally got to the pièce de resistance—Madeleine’s djellaba. As she adjusted the hood, the girls suddenly realised they had an audience. They looked over towards the doorway to see Pierre and Yveline standing, almost as astonished as Carla was when she first came into the room.
“This will be impossible to explain,” Pierre observed. “A Uranan Baptist girl visits a French Catholic one and ends up a Muslim.”
“We were just having fun, Papa,” was Madeleine’s excuse.
“Of course,” Pierre replied. “Welcome to our home, Carla. Did I notice that you were using the spare tyre on your truck?”
“Had a flat on the Dahlia Bridge,” Carla admitted.
“We think it was sabotage,” Madeleine said.
“After yesterday, I’m not surprised, especially since you were presumably on the Point.” He thought for a second, then looked at his watch. “I have an idea. It is 1640. Why don’t you go to Mass together, so that Madeleine can return the favour of being taken to your church. While you are doing that, we will prepare some French food that is unobtainable elsewhere in this country.”
“I need to let my parents know where I am,” Carla said. “I’ve lost track of time—they’re probably worried about me.”
“I will take care of that,” Pierre assured her. “You and Madeleine just get to Mass and back. We will do the rest.”
The girls took their cue. Carla got into one of Madeleine’s more conventional outfits and before they knew it they were in Madeleine’s Dyane.
“We could go to St. Sebastian’s on the Point,” Madeleine said. “It’s a lot prettier than the Cathedral.”
“I’m not ready to go back to the Point,” Carla said.
“Perhaps I am not either,” Madeleine agreed, and with that they made a left turn and went up to the Cathedral for Mass.
Mass was as mystifying of a business for Carla as Baptist church was for Madeleine. With all of the motions and the liturgical details, Carla was lost, although Madeleine attempted to keep Carla informed as to what was going on. Finally, when the ushers came to summon the faithful in their pew row to receive the bread of life, Madeleine stayed put.
“Why aren’t you going?” Carla asked.
“So you won’t feel so left out,” Madeleine whispered back.
“Go on—it’s your church,” Carla came back. Madeleine got up, received the Host, and returned.
It was all done in a little less than an hour. Madeleine made a special effort to formally introduce Carla to the celebrant, Father Moore, and this took a little time since he disappeared behind the altar for a bit after Mass.
“You’re the young lady who stayed with Madeleine when she was in the hospital,” Moore said, recognising Carla.
“I couldn’t let her be alone,” Carla replied.
“Perhaps you are trying to make a Baptist out of her?” Moore suggested.
“She doesn’t need more assistance in this regard,” Madeleine snapped. She nudged her friend and they walked away.
“What was that all about?” Carla asked, angry and buffaloed at the same time. “I’ve never tried to make you join my church.”
“Of course not,” Madeleine replied. “It is the business of the miracles. Papa has already had an encounter with the Bishop over this.”
“I thought your church believed in miracles.”
“It does—when they find them helpful.”
“Can I ask another dumb question?”
“Your ‘dumb questions’ are usually the best ones,” Madeleine observed.
“Madeleine, what do you get out of this? We came here. We went through a ritual. Hardly anyone spoke to us or each other. They stampeded to the door at the end. Finally your priest insulted me—really the both of us. Why do you stick it out?”
Madeleine thought for a second. “How often do you have communion at your church?”
“One a month. . .when we’re lucky.”
“And what is communion in your church?”
“It’s an ordinance. A memorial.”
“Precisely my point. When Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he did so to enable us to partake of his own Body and Blood—Body, actually—at the Mass. For Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, and as the song they sang says, if we do not, how can we have life in us? But for those of us who do, we can have eternal life, and he will resurrect us on the last day.”
Carla’s Bible memorisation put her at a disadvantage “I wish the last day would hurry up,” she finally replied.
“But first we must hurry up and get home for our dinner,” Madeleine said. They got back into the Dyane and soon were coming up Madeleine’s street. Carla immediately noticed that the driveway was empty.
“Where’s the truck?” Carla asked, a little panicky.
“Let’s go in and find out,” said Madeleine matter-of-factly. They did just that; Yveline was by herself in the kitchen.
“Where is Papa?” Madeleine asked.
“He took Carla’s truck to his office.”
“Why?” Carla asked.
“To change the tyres,” Yveline replied. “Pierre said the spare didn’t look good, and that the others didn’t look much better.”
“It’s been a while since they’ve been changed,” Carla said. “But we can’t afford to replace them now.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Yveline said. Carla gave Madeleine a puzzled look and got a blank one back.
“In the meanwhile, I need to aid Maman,” Madeleine declared.
“I’ll help too,” Carla joined in. “Wait—did you call my parents?”
“Pierre did,” Yveline said. “They became very worried when he told them what had happened to you. They are coming down now to make sure you are all right and to help you get home.”
“I guess I won’t be staying for dinner, then,” Carla sighed.
“Of course you will,” Yveline corrected her. “He invited them to join us. We will set two additional places.”
It wasn’t long before Pierre pulled the truck into the driveway. Somehow Pierre and the truck didn’t befit each other; both of the girls had a hard time not to laugh as he made the long journey down from the driver’s seat and towards the door.
“Your tyres have been replaced, Mademoiselle Stanley,” he said, taking off his straw hat and bowing to her half in jest. “That includes the spare.”
“You changed them yourself?” Carla asked.
“I asked Luke to come in and help me. He made a special trip.”
“How much do we owe you?”
“Owe us? How much do we owe you for being Madeleine’s only friend on the Island?”
“Only friend?” Carla asked in shock, turning to Madeleine. “Surely you have more than just me.”
“It is hard to admit,” Madeleine said, “but it is true. Especially after my illness.”
“Such a relationship, it is difficult to put a price on it,” Pierre observed. “We make a stronger distinction than you between mere acquaintances and real friends.” They heard an estate car lumbering down the street. It parked along the street; the Stanleys’ bounded from it, and their reunion with their daughter was tearful and joyous.
Pierre managed to get everyone into the house; Yveline was just about ready. Pierre and Pete went to the study to chat while Madeleine gave Alice and Carla a quick tour of the house, bear collection included. By the time that was done, Yveline was ready. They sat down; it was a crowd but they managed to get everyone in.
“Would you like to bless our meal this evening, Carla?” Pierre asked.
“Yes,” she replied. But that was about as far as it got. As soon as she bowed her head, she broke down in tears, which meant that Madeleine and Alice followed suit. It was left to Pete Stanley, as soon as the sobbing subsided, to pray a really nice prayer for the food and for the safety that God had extended to Carla on the Point.
The Stanley’s were duly impressed with the cuisine at the des Cieux house, even though they did not partake of the wine. But there were other matters to attend to.
“Your home is very nice,” Alice said.
“Thank you—we don’t have many visitors, so it is not as organised as one would like,” Yveline said apologetically.
“Well, at least the young lady of the house has a feminine place to stay,” Alice said.
“Mother!” Carla snapped defensively.
“It worries me,” Alice continued. “What Christian man will marry such a competitive tomboy?”
“One that wants to spend his life with a winner,” Yveline replied matter-of-factly. Carla lightened up at that remark.
“It’s my fault to a great degree,” Pete admitted. “I took her to the store. She liked the work. I had run out of sons, so she just picked up where they left off. Like all my children, she did the work. My customers liked her. Then she got into soccer and tennis, and now her room is a trophy case.”
“The world has changed,” Pierre observed. “Your daughter is attractive and has a pleasing personality. I wouldn’t worry if I were you two.”
“I hope you are right,” Alice sighed. “And what of Madeleine? Carla tells me she is thinking about becoming a nun or something.”
“It is not so final,” Madeleine said.
“I think I’ve talked her out of it,” Carla said, to everyone’s laughter.
The evening went on in this way for some time. But it came to an end at last. Carla changed back in her own clothes—which the des Cieux had washed—and the Stanleys left with their hosts watching them go down the street and not going back in until they turned left on Central Avenue to head home.
“I have been in business for a long time,” Pierre said as he eased into his arm chair, “and have entertained at many excellent places, but I don’t think I ever had dinner with a client I enjoyed more.”
“They are more than clients,” Yveline said.
Carla and Alice rode in the estate car as Pete drove the truck behind them. They worked their way down Central Avenue, with all of its traffic lights, all the way through Verecunda city and North Verecunda. As they got away from the two cities, the road narrowed to two lanes and the view around them darkened into the rural vista of Uranus. The only lights were from farmhouses with their security lights and the waxing crescent moon setting on their left.
The road curved from north-west to north-east. The only places open in Uranus town were the bars on each edge; some of the cruisers were out as well. The rural darkness returned until they reached North Hallett, where there was less activity than in Uranus town. They turned right and headed seaward until they reached their own driveway and the lights of their own home.


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