The cafeteria of the Point Collina school was a cut above those of any other school in the Republic of Verecunda, which reflected the fact that everything else about the school was the same way. In theory it was a “private” school, but it received some money from the Republic, which made it affordable for exceptional students. The cafeteria spanned the building, on one side having large windows that gave a view of the street below and the other that opened up to the athletic fields. Separating these two views were a series of parallel long tables where the students took in whatever lunch the kitchen took a notion to fixing for them.
In the corner closest to the exit from the cafeteria line and on the side of the athletic fields, Denise Kendall “held court” during lunch with about a half dozen of her friends, male and female alike, the first day back from Yule vacation. Daughter of the President of the Republic, she presided over her court—and the student body that surrounded it in the cafeteria—with an authority that sometimes made her father envious. The only thing average about her was her height. Her wavy, medium brown hair, wrapped into a ponytail that never quite hung straight, sat atop a well-tanned, husky, athletic physique that was the base for her position as the Republic’s—and possibly the Island’s—foremost Upper Division girl tennis player, ruling that court as she ruled the one facing her at lunch.
Most of the people surrounding her were on the Upper Division tennis teams. To her left was Marguerite van Bokhoven, whom everybody at school called “Vannie.” She was almost Denise’s alter ego, with fairer complexion and slighter build than her imperious friend. Her wide green eyes reminded some people of the shallow waters of the Cresca Sound, but her face reflected an uncertainty that drew her to stick with Denise for stability.
Across from Denise was Pete Alter. Although Point Collina still had rules for maximum hair length, Pete chose to push his long wavy brown hair to the limit, as it rested on his collar. Already at noon he had a five o’clock shadow, and although his back was to most of the cafeteria he spent a lot of time turning around to check out who was there.
Diagonally across the room were two Fourth Formers who spent a lot of time together but were opposites from their appearance onwards. One was Cathy Arnold, a petite, miniskirted blonde with the rather strange combination of one grey eye and one green one. Her family went back to the beginnings of the Republic, but her informal demeanour did not betray that to the casual observer. The other was Terry Marlowe, whose straight, jet black hair went straight down to her waist. Her facial features, along with her hair, reflected her Sino-Italian background, especially the Chinese part. A scion of the Gerland family, she wore slacks and a shocking pink top, as opposed to the more muted colours of her friend. Terry’s use of bold colours was her preference but unnecessary to draw attention. At 181 centimetres, she was the tallest girl in the school, and that included the Fifth and Sixth Formers, and even sitting she looked down at her friend.
“I still can’t believe that Denise dumped Jack the way she did,” Terry said to Cathy, referring to her brother.
“She sure did,” Cathy replied mournfully. “We got back from our Christmas trip to Serelia, we went to the yacht club, found her with Petey boy over there. You could tell they were already steady. Jack went up to them but Denise blew him off. No goodbye, no ‘Dear John’ letter, nothing. I think that her and Pete went to the club knowing we ate there on Friday night, just to make the point.”
“But. . .why?” Terry pressed.
“I dunno. Maybe it’s because Pete was elected captain of the boys’ tennis team. It looks so cute when the two captains are going steady,” Cathy said sarcastically.
“Maybe it’s political,” Terry observed. “Maybe her dad’s about ready to put the hurts on your family.”
“You’re too paranoid about that,” Cathy retorted. “Face it, Jack and Denise are ‘kissing cousins,’ as they used to say. We’re related somewhere back there.”
“More than kissing,” Terry wryly observed.
“Don’t be smart,” Cathy came back. “Just because you don’t. . .”
“I’m sorry,” Terry apologised. “So what about this trip to Serelia?”
“Oh, yeah, that,” Cathy remembered. “It was weird. Really different.”
“You actually spent Christmas up there?”
“Yeah, we did.”
“My father had a client with some kind of legal problem up there. Mother was tired of the same old thing at Christmas, and Trey was going to his girlfriend’s home on Long Island, so we just decided on the spur of the moment to head to the East Island.”
“So what’s it like? Mother won’t let me go.”
“Primitive,” Cathy replied. “We stayed at this inn in Serelia, right near the Palace and the Cathedral. Bathroom was down the hall—good thing we were the only people there, but we made our own line anyway. But it’s right on the beach, I got to sunbathe. The Serelians kept staring at me, like I was a creature from another planet.”
“They probably hadn’t seen a bikini like yours.”
“Very funny,” Cathy came back. “But you’re probably right.”
“So what about this legal matter?” Terry asked curiously.
“It was a joke,” Cathy answered. “We got there on Wednesday before Christmas. They made us cool our heels until after Winter Court started on Monday. We’d still be there, but my father has connections in the church—Grandpa helped start the Church of Serelia—and as soon as they were past their Christmas liturgies, they arranged a special audience with the King. They brought us all in, we did our little bow, Dad went back into a meeting with the King, we waited about half an hour, he came out, the matter was settled, and that was it. We came home and Jack found out Denise had pulled a switch on him.”
“I’ve heard the Cathedral up there is beautiful,” Terry said.
“It is,” Cathy agreed. “In some ways, the best part of the trip. It takes your breath away the first time you walk in. But going to church there—it seemed like we made every service, there wasn’t anything else to do—is like a time machine. Old prayer book, old music, everything’s old. . .but there was one point where I really wished you were with me.”
“When was that?”
“It was after Morning Prayer on Sunday,” Cathy continued. “We were standing in the narthex while Dad was trying to figure out something with Bishop Tanger. This guy came up to me and starting talking to me about my family—my grandfather, everything he did for the Church of Serelia, all of my relatives. It was really weird. He was a walking encyclopaedia about my family. He just went on and on.”
“What did he look like?” Terry asked, intrigued.
“He was tall—God, he was an inch taller than you, and skinny, like you. His hair was a shade darker than mine. Kind of a nerd, but kind of cute, too. I think he’s a Fifth Former.”
“Two and a half centimetres taller, Cathy,” Terry reminded her friend.
“Sorry,” Cathy said, only half-apologetically.
“Just trying to keep you out of trouble.”
“How do you keep up with that?”
“Working for Daddy,” Terry answered. “A lot of the stuff he brings in is in metric—weight, size, all of that. So I had to learn. So what’s his name?”
“Let me see. . .oh, yeah, Lewis. Julian Lewis.” Cathy looked at Terry intensely. “You two would make a cute couple—if you could get him down here.”
“Probably not my type,” Terry sighed despondently at the thought of the geographical separation.
“So how was your Christmas?” Cathy asked, abruptly changing the subject.
“About the same,” Terry replied laconically.
“Still fighting with your mother?” Cathy asked.
“Yeah,” Terry answered. “Daddy did manage to take me to Midnight and Sunday Mass. And Mother and I argued over the same old thing.”
“She needs to get off your case about that,” Cathy said. “It’s your body. If I can go along with you, so can she. Look, why don’t you tell her that I do it enough for both of us?”
Terry giggled at the suggestion. “You’re the best. I wish that would work. But she’s worried about her reputation in the CPL.”
They would have continued but the dismissal of court in the corner caught their attention.
“What’s she coming over here for?” Cathy asked, realising that Denise was coming in their direction.
“I dunno,” Terry answered. “Hope it’s not to rub it in about Jack.”
“You and me both,” Cathy agreed. The closer she got, the more evident it was that Denise was focused on Terry, not Cathy.
“Frenchie’s off the team for the season,” Denise announced to Terry. “You know she got real sick. You’re going with me to the Beran Invitational this Saturday.”
“But. . .I’m only sixth on the ladder,” Terry protested.
“Fifth,” Denise corrected her. “I don’t care. You’re still going. And if you get up there and screw up like you’re famous for, your half-breed ass is grassed.”
“Who else is playing?” Cathy asked while Terry winced from the racial slur.
“It’s their tournament, so they choose,” Denise answered. “Two schools from Verecunda and two from Aloxa. It’s to show off their new tennis court at Beran-Williamstown Comprehensive, although I hate to see what their idea of a new tennis court is. Aloxa Royal is the other school of theirs. I just learned all of this late last week.”
“So isn’t there one more Verecundan school?” Cathy asked.
“Close, it’s Uranan. They picked Hallett, which means that I’ll probably play that Bible-thumping Goldilocks for the championship.” She turned to Terry and said, “But you’ll have your hands full. See you at practice.” She began to walk away, but turned back to Terry and warned, “You better be careful who you hang out with. It could be hazardous to your health, if you know what I mean.”
“Be seeing you,” Terry said cheerily as Denise turned and walked away. Cathy fumed like she was about to explode when Terry softly sang, “Love like a man. . .”
Cathy started giggling, and Terry broke down with her. “You’re wicked. That black hair of yours becomes you today,” Cathy finally managed to come out with.
“It’s the truth,” Terry simply replied.
“Speaking of the tennis team, where is ‘Frenchie,’ as she calls her?” Cathy asked.
“Saw her walk into the building this morning,” Terry informed her friend. “She looks really pale. Isn’t moving too fast, either.”
“I haven’t seen her here the whole lunch break. . .come to think of it, I’ve hardly seen her at lunch this whole year.”
“I think she has lunch with Madame Seignet a lot. I’ve heard”—she looked around to make sure no one else was in earshot, then leaned over to Cathy—“that they drink wine when they close the door to Seignet’s room”
“Talk about teacher’s pet!” Cathy exclaimed.
“Maybe she deserves it,” Terry observed.
“What do you mean?”
“Madeleine does a lot of work teaching the little primary school kids French. I think they do planning while eating. Gets credit for it too. Besides, Daddy told me that Monsieur des Cieux told him she almost died from that encephalitis. Guess they’re still glad to have her around. . .well, I guess we better get back to class. I’ve got a long week ahead of me.”
“So does Jack,” Cathy said. “He’s supposed to make the trip too.”