Chapter 1: Viviane and Mrs. Malifaux: Conversation 1
“Mum, how many times do I have to tell you, it's Viviane.”
“Sebastian, sweetie, be reasonable about this. It was cute when you were twelve and wanted to grow up to be Sherlock Holmes, but don't you think you're a little old for this sort of thing by now?”
“I'm not being fanciful, Mother, I'm transgendered. Didn't you read the articles I sent you?”
“I still think you're being a bit drastic. Can't you just be gay?”
“No, mother, I cannot 'just be gay.' Among many other issues, I am not sexually attracted to men.”
“Well, then, whyever do you want to be a woman so much? It can't be for the clothes. I've seen how you dress, stomping around in that big silly coat of yours and wearing scarves in the middle of May.”
“Mother, we live in Western Washington. Medium-weight wool is often appropriate until the middle of July – not that this is relevant to the issue at hand. Gender identity isn't just a matter of what you wear and whom you have sex with. Would you get a sex change if it meant you'd never have to wear nylons again and had a chance of dating Stephen Fry?”
“Well, I'd certainly consider it.”
“Look – Mum – I'm sorry I brought it up. What did you want to tell me?”
“Your cousin Belladonna's wedding is in three months, and you need to get fitted for your suit.”
“It's three months away? Somebody tell that poor man to run when there's still time!”
“Sebastian! That was in very poor taste. Just because you are incapable of relating normally to other humans doesn't mean you have a right to begrudge Bella her chance at happiness.”
“That's not this issue... oh, forget it. But – if I'm not going to be in the wedding party, and I assume I'm not, why do I need to go to all this trouble for a specific new outfit? I own formal clothes.”
“Sebastian, darling, I've seen the kinds of things you wear when left to your own devices. I am not going to let you ruin Bella's special day and humiliate me by showing up in your pajamas or whatever nonsense gets into your head this time. It would make the whole business so much less stressful for me if I could just be assured that you'd be properly dressed and behaving yourself.”
“I am a legal adult, and certainly capable of dressing myself, so I don't see why the hypothetical possibility of me showing up in something blatantly inappropriate for the occasion should embarrass you, as long as I'm not violating cultural standards of modesty. Look, Mum the university library has etiquette books. Why not just tell me what type of wedding Donnie and her new chew-toy are having and what the theme is, if applicable, and I'll come up with something appropriate?”
“Sebastian, why must you be so stubborn about this?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Just what is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that, with all due respect, Mother, most of the formal clothing you've bought for me over the years has been, I'm sorry to say, unacceptably itchy.”
“You're going to be so childish about a little thing like that?”
“I have my reasons. Do you remember what Miss Flora said about my sensory issues?”
“Miss Flora coddled you far too much and didn't know what she was talking about, as far as I'm concerned. I have no idea how someone who's ostensibly a trained professional could think someone who talks as much as you and has your miserable math skills might possibly be autistic. No, Sebastian, there's nothing wrong with your brain apart from your attitude problem and a few sociopathic tendencies.”
“With all due respect, Mother, I would beg to differ. Think of it this way – when I want not to pay attention to something, sometimes that takes energy, with me.”
“Well, you must spend most of your time dead on your feet, then, considering how much regard you pay my feelings.”
“... so when I'm around a big crowd of people, like at a wedding reception, there are so many more things I have to actively tune out if I want to be able to concentrate on eating, or polite conversation, or whatever else it is people do at wedding receptions. When I'm trying to be civil in the middle of a crowd, over the noise of the DJ, with my nose full of someone else's cologne, the last thing I need is the distraction of my clothes growing sharp edges and digging into my clavicle.”
“You know, Sebastian, you'd have a lot more energy to spend acting like a normal, civilized human being if you stopped trying to uncover people's extramarital affairs from the mud on their shoes and didn't take so much time making excuses for yourself.”
“Maybe it would be better if we wrapped this up, Mum? Send me the details of the wedding when you get them, give Dad my fondest regards, and if Belladonna asks, tell her that I wish she and her fiance are very happy together.”
“But your suit-”
“I'm sure I'll be able to put together something suitable. Goodbye, Mum.”
Chapter 2: Viviane and Marcella: First Meeting
Holmes meets her Watson, or, the advantages of public transportation.
Viviane bought all her groceries at the Bellehaven Real Food Co-Op. She found the name a bit silly – what else would they sell, computerized simulations of food? Holograms? Wax fruit? - and it was nearly a mile further from Thornfield Towers than the nearest supermarket, but it had its advantages. It was smaller, and the lighting wasn't as bright, and it normally wasn't intolerably crowded if one stayed away from the bakery/cafe and the deli section. And if the food was a little more expensive than the student staples would have been at the supermarket, at least it was all ostensibly-healthful.
Even under congenial circumstances, Viviane didn't particularly enjoy shopping, but compared to spending a long exhausting day dealing with other people and sundry unpleasant stimuli and then having to choose between legging it to a crowded student dining hall and having breath mints and tea for dinner again, grocery shopping was a day at the library. Unless she were feeling particularly resilient or the listing for the specialite de la maison looked uncommonly tempting, Viviane normally took a light dinner in her rooms and then, on particularly long and strenuous nights, went to the dining hall around nine o'clock to take advantage of the late night sandwich bar under less crowded conditions. Viviane had also experimented with the breath mints and tea approach, but had found that while it worked in the short term, it was not the sort of regimen designed to support prolonged spells of feverish intellectual activity.
Viviane's acquisitions consisted of: a pound of organic Honeycrisp apples, a box of instant miso soup mix, two boxes of ostensibly medicinal herbal tea bags (sleep-inducing and anxiety relief), one box of purely recreational tea bags (apple cinnamon rosehip), a small jar of local blackberry honey, eight ounces of dried instant vegetable soup mix, a box of sesame whole wheat crackers, four packets of udon, and a bag of dry-roasted edamame with sea salt and cracked pepper. Viviane's mini-fridge was full of experiments in progress and she didn't have reliable access to a working stove, so she restricted her culinary repertoire to things that could be made with a microwave and electric kettle, and ingredients that didn't have to be refrigerated before opening.
Despite her general dislike of errands, Viviane was forced to admit that her shopping trip could have been far more unpleasant. She hadn't had to share a seat on the bus and her fellow passengers had been civil without veering into undue familiarity, the store hadn't been inconveniently crowded, everything she'd wanted to buy had been in its accustomed location, and the produce section had been offering free samples of local organic cider. And, not the least important for someone without a car, the weather was cooperating. In fact, Viviane had to squint a little as she left the relatively dim confines of the co-op for the bright Indian Summer day outside. There was a hint of chill in the air, but as a card-carrying member of the Long Swishy Coats Go With Everything club, Viviane didn't mind it. Fashion aside, a still, humid day would have been terribly incongruous with the local scenery. Bellehaven's vine maples in their fall glory demanded crystalline blue skies and brisk autumn breezes. Viviane absently wished she had leaves to scuff through as she shouldered her tote bag full of groceries and walked uphill to the bus stop.
A few minutes later, a young woman about Viviane's age jogged up to the bus stop from the direction of the co-op. She had a cafe au lait complexion and curly, shoulder-length dark brown hair, and she was carrying an empty backpack, a large silk-embroidered felt shoulder bag, and two laden canvas tote bags. "Hey, um, excuse me," she said, as she caught her breath, "Could you tell me how long you've been waiting here?"
Viviane checked her watch. "Certainly. Four minutes."
"Okay, so the 221 shouldn't have come yet. Sometimes it's early, but it's never that early. Thanks!" the young woman said, as she flashed a cheerful - if rather sharp-toothed - smile. She set her backpack and bags of groceries down on the bus stop's bench and began arranging the food and assorted household necessities in her backpack. If she noticed Viviane watching, she didn't seem to mind. "Oh, and I'm Marcella, by the way."
"You're a long way from home, Marcella," Viviane said.
"Now, what would make you think that?" Marcella asked, with what Viviane dearly hoped was amusement. "Was it my accent?"
"Tote bags, actually," Viviane said. "Tacoma Farmers' Market and Pierce County Library."
"Right." Marcella smiled and shook her head. "How absurdly simple."
"You're not in desperate financial straits," Viviane continued, "You can afford organic fruit and fancy ecological dish soap, and your backpack was quite high end when it was new, but you've learned to be frugal. You use souvenir tote bags for your groceries, you've mended the strap on your purse, replaced the laces on your sneakers - which have been through at least one rainy season - sewn back two buttons on your cardigan and replaced the top button entirely. However, your socks and the scarf are new."
"Right on all counts."
"You're interested in fiber arts - knitting, if I'm not mistaken about the origin of your scarf - which you may have learned from the relative who made you that sweater. And you're currently working on a project involving glossy forest green eyelash yarn." At the sight of Marcella's puzzled expression, Viviane explained, "Bits of fuzz stuck to your sweater."
"You do a lot of walking, and you hike when you get the chance," Viviane continued. "You wouldn't buy a backpack of this caliber for hauling groceries and textbooks, and I believe... yes, it's rested against an uncommonly sappy evergreen. Fairly recently, and more than once. You wouldn't buy..." she muttered to herself. "The backpack was a gift. It's not something someone in her late teens with a modest income would buy for herself... there are cheaper models out there with the same purpose."
"You're right about that, it was a high school graduation present," Marcella said. "But I learned how to knit out of a book. Although Aunt Sophia did have to demonstrate purling to me when I couldn't decipher the diagram, so that'd be - half a point?"
"Keep score in whatever fashion pleases you," Viviane said. She gave Marcella a long, searching look. "Hmm... From the way you move, and your overall pattern of muscular development, running errands on foot and the occasional hike in the woods clearly aren't your only forms of exercise. Equally clearly, you are not a competitive sprinter."
"Hey! I'd like to see you run uphill with two bags of groceries."
"I was referring to the state of your shoes and your calf muscles. And you're a bit stocky for a serious marathoner, not to mention the potential complication of your old knee injury. Tell me, was it sports, a car accident, or something more exotic?"
"But you don't play it now?"
"Not since high school."
"That makes more sense. I was certain you hadn't rolled around on any grass lately. But you don't just work out, either." Viviane narrowed her eyes and looked down at Marcella through her long, silvery lashes. "Indoor sport. From your ankles and leg muscles - not a ballerina. From the state of your hair - not a swimmer. Lack of characteristic calluses on your hands suggests that, while you have therianthropic heritage, you don't spend much time as a quadruped yourself, not that that's relevant to the situation at hand.” Viviane briefly wondered if she should have phrased her last observation a bit more delicately. Viviane thought that the idea that one should treat another person's identity as a piece of bad news to be broken to them gently was a bit insulting, but other people could be oddly sensitive about the strangest things. Marcella wasn't turning away, crying, glaring, turning pale or red, or attempting to punch Viviane in the face, so it was probably all right.
“Pattern of repeated impacts with firm but not dangerously unyielding surfaces, possibly mats or other human beings, with no real injury resulting,” Viviane continued. “Pattern inconsistent with either repeated accidents or serious violence. All other evidence suggests that you are not clumsy, and if the marks were acquired in an abusive relationship or other situation with strong negative emotional associations, you'd be making more of an effort to cover them up. Sparring is the most logical explanation. Ergo: martial artist. Some of these are clearly from hitting the ground, not being hit by another person, you don't have the characteristic specialized musculature of someone who focuses on punches or kicks, and the state of your knuckles indicates that you don't make a habit of punching people. So, more a grappler than a striker."
"I've been studying judo half my life," Marcella replied.
"So, with your current data, could you guess my major?"
Viviane sighed. "Not at the moment, no. I can tell that this is at least your third year at Northwestern Polygnostic - you're carrying year before last's reusable portable tea mug - and that you had at least two classes this morning. One of them was a lecture - you took rather copious notes, in pencil - and the other was pottery. But you didn't throw any pots, you spent your time trimming and glazing. There's clay dust and a few dribbles of glaze on your shoes, but no trace of slip. As for your major - all I can say with anything close to certainty is that it's not computer technology or one of the hard sciences."
"I just don't seem like the type?"
"No. The Physics and Computer Tech buildings are both situated on unusual patches of dirt compared to the rest of campus. The soil there has a rather distinctive color and a much higher clay content. I'd notice it on your shoes. I spend a great deal of time pursuing independent research in the chemistry and biology labs and the geology building. If you also spent much time there, we'd have encountered each other before this. And, geologic evidence aside, why would a computer engineer take all her notes in pencil?"
"Overstrained her typing muscles?" Marcella suggested. "Oh, hey, here it comes. You want to keep this up on the bus and amaze and disturb our fellow passengers?"
"I am amenable to continuing if you are."
"So, oh wise and not-quite-omniscient oracle," Marcella said, "tell me about my living arrangements."
"You live with someone. You're on civil enough terms to do small favors for each other, but not notably close. One of you has a wheat or gluten intolerance - most likely your housemate. Neither of you smoke. You live off campus and don't keep a car in Bellehaven. You don't live with a cat at present, but you did at some point in the past - and likely a cat of uncertain temper."
"How on earth?" Marcella asked as the bus pulled up.
"Simple," Viviane said as she boarded. The front half of the bus was occupied, so Viviane headed for the far back, which had enough free space for Viviane and Marcella to sit together with a decent amount of elbow room. As both women took their seats and set down their shopping, she continued, "You bought a bag of regular spinach-cheese tortellini, some pita chips, and a loaf of garlic sourdough. However, you also bought a bag of gluten-free rice pasta. That suggests a second consumer in this scenario. You're willing to pick up a few things for them when you're in the area, but you don't share meals."
"And as for the cat?" Marcella asked.
"Bite and claw marks on your hands and forearms, but all well-healed, and no cat fur on your sweater."
"The freshest bite marks are actually from my aunt's cats," Marcella said. "I house-sat for her this summer. But yes, I come from a family of cat lovers. God help us."
Viviane stared intently at the floor for a few moments with her hands clasped and resting on her knees. She took a few deep breaths, and continued, "You live somewhere along the half-mile between the bottom of Arkham Hill and McMurdo Creek."
"Simple process of elimination and a basic knowledge of local geology. You live somewhere along Route 221, between here and the Northwest Bellehaven Transit Center - and not on campus. It last rained four days ago, and yet the state of your shoes indicates recent contact with a peculiarly silty mud puddle. The little valley north of Arkham is one of the soggiest residential areas in the city - serves the developers right for trying to pave a marsh - and that is riverside dirt, but 221 doesn't get close to the Memaloostaguamish itself."
"Wow, I- that's..." Marcella smiled in an odd sort of way and shrugged as if at a loss for words, "amazing."
Viviane preened a little in spite of herself. "Really? Some people find it inexplicably disturbing."
"No, it's cool. I didn't know anyone could make the Sherlock Holmes schtick work in real life. How do you know so much about dirt, anyway? Are you a geology major?"
"No, organic chemistry. But I like to have a basic practical knowledge of local geography. Helps me avoid getting lost."
"You know, most people just use street signs," Marcella said, but she didn't sound put off. There was a moment's companionable silence, and then Viviane realized that she'd been monopolizing the conversation since Marcella had introduced herself. Marcella didn't seem to mind, thank heavens, but conventional etiquette dictated a certain reciprocity in these situations.
"So," Viviane said, "Would you like to make an attempt?"
"An attempt at... oh, right. Well, I have just enough knowledge of geology to tell basalt from beryl." She leaned in Viviane's direction and stage-whispered, "Basalt's not green,", then continued in her normal voice, "So this is likely to be brief and unimpressive, but sure. I'll give it a shot." She squinted a bit, tilted her head, gave Viviane a lingering, head-to-toe look, and took a deep breath.
"Okay, um, you're a natural blonde with decent dental hygiene. Your clothes are high quality and in good condition, but not new, and nothing overtly trendy. You probably buy what you like rather than following fashion, and wear it to death. You have some money to sink into things. The coat alone had to be a substantial investment - even thrift shops don't give away something like that. However, your shirt probably really is from a thrift store. Nobody'd pay the retail cost of a real silk shirt if the sleeves were an inch too short. So, um, you come from money but you don't like to impose on them?"
"You could put it that way,” Viviane said coolly. And let's leave it at that, she thought. There was no point in marring a pleasant afternoon.
"You probably don't have a car. I saw you use a bus pass when we got on. You do a decent amount of walking, from the condition your boots are in - and you walked through some recently mowed wet grass earlier today - but you don't get much outdoor exercise otherwise. No residual summer tan. Oh, and you're a tea drinker who doesn't cook from scratch much," Marcella added, gesturing towards Viviane's modest bag of groceries.
"Fair enough. Anything else?" Viviane asked.
"You don't smoke, or live with anyone who does, but you were in close proximity to some smokers earlier today. A bit of the smell sunk into your coat. And you wash with peppermint soap - Dr. Bronner's or something similar. And - um, this is a bit of a wild guess, but - do you play a string instrument?"
"Well, you see, your fingernails are very short, but you don't bite them, and you have long skinny Paganini fingers, and to put it bluntly, manual labor doesn't seem to be your thing. At all. So - maybe you play an instrument where long nails would get in the way?"
"That's... a bit of an intuitive leap for my tastes, but not inaccurate," Viviane said.
"Well, that's a relief," Marcella said dryly. "What do you play?"
"Classical guitar, mostly. A bit of cello. You see-" Viviane held out her hands - "The patterns of calluses on my left and right hands are different, and the nails on my right hand aren't as short, because I use them for picking."
"Oh, right," Marcella said. "Not really my area, I'm afraid, I can't play anything but piano."
Viviane sighed gustily and facepalmed. "Piano. How could I have missed that? Instruments are easy!"
"Um, if it's any consolation, my current apartment doesn't have one and I haven't had a chance to practice since I came back to Bellehaven. Oh, and do you have a name, by the way, or should I call you Sherlockina or something?"
Viviane wrinkled her nose. "Viviane will do."
"Like the Lady of the Lake?"
"So, um, Viviane, I just thought that, since we already know so much about each other, it would, you know, be kind of a shame if we got off this bus and disappeared into the void from whence we came and never saw each other again. Would you like to hang out some time? The public library does free chamber music nights in one of the meeting rooms if that's something you're interested in, although if you are interested, you probably already knew this-"
"Actually, I didn't. I don't really go out. I'm always busy with my studies and my research projects."
"But that doesn't mean I don't want to!" Viviane said hurriedly. "I do. Very much."
"Wonderful," Marcella said, apparently with all sincerity. "So, we'd better exchange contact information, because I don't know about you, but my psychic communication skills are a bit rusty."
Viviane rolled her eyes. "And I fear mine are no better."
Marcella smiled, and excavated a small notebook and mechanical pencil out of the depths of her purse. She wrote a few lines, ripped out the page, and handed the paper to Viviane. "You need paper or anything?" she asked.
"No, thank you," Viviane said. She fished a pen and receipt out of the pocket of her coat and repeated Marcella's actions.
"Okay," Marcella said, "Just to make sure we can read each other's handwriting, your email is whack_a_6022?"
"You may be overly cautious, but yes, that's right. And you're lapucelle1983?"
"Right. And this wouldn't seem paranoid if you had a friend who wrote ones and zeroes just like lowercase ls and os, and who had a fondness for leetspeak."
"Ah, I see."
"Oh, and, by the way, Viviane, where's your stop?"
"Oh, that was three blocks ago," Viviane said calmly.
"I didn't want to cut our conversation off in the middle," Viviane said. "Besides, walking an extra fraction of a mile in mild weather is no hardship. I would, however, prefer to exit before we hit the next hill."
Viviane stuffed the slip of paper with Marcella's contact information into her coat pocket and rang the bell. As soon as she noticed the next bus stop on the horizon, she gathered up her groceries. "Goodbye, Marcella," she said, "Believe me, it has been a great pleasure to meet you."
"Me too. See you later."
"Not too much later, I hope."
"I'm looking forward to it," Marcella said. She added, just as Viviane was leaving the bus, "By the way, I'm a psychology major."
Chapter 3: Viviane and Marcella: Totally Not A Date, Part One
Subject: Chamber Music Night?
First, I hope I'm spelling your name right. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Also, if you're still interested in going to a concert together sometime, Bellehaven Public Library is doing one of their free chamber music nights this Friday. It's going to be Schubert Night: they're doing the Trout Quintet, the Death and the Maiden Quartet, and a few new art songs by “local contemporary composers” (read: NPU music theory and composition majors) to fill out the program. Not exactly envelope-pushing, I'll admit, but the musicianship is generally pretty good. I think if the library wanted to get anyone besides the performers' parents, the performers' significant others, and a handful of homeless people trying to get out of the rain to sit still for Pierrot Lunaire, they'd have to provide rather a lot of after-concert refreshments, and that's just one more thing to clean up.
Concert's at 7, and they generally end between 9 and 9:30, so even allowing for a bit of delay, the buses in that part of town will still be running. Also, if you're not too busy that afternoon and evening, are you interested in meeting a bit earlier? I know a place within walking distance of the library that does great gelato, and they have sugar-free and dairy-free options if that's an issue.
I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
Subject: Re:Chamber Music Night?
Viviane is correct. As you put it when we met, “like the Lady of the Lake,” although I realize this is not particularly informative when one considers that wide range of fanciful alternate spellings in Arthurian works.
I would be more than happy to join you for an evening of gelato, Schubert, and modern amateur lieder. I have few non-scholastic obligations, and few of my personal research projects operate on any kind of strict time frame. Where and when would you like to meet? Do you know how large an audience there is likely to be?
Subject: Re:Re:Chamber Music Night?
Wonderful! How about we aim for 5:30 at Paradiso Bakery and Gelateria? That should give us plenty of time even if they're busier than usual, there are traffic problems, the buses are running late, et cetera. If we finish early we can go for a walk or something. It's a pretty part of town.
(By the way, if you've never been there: Paradiso's about three blocks down from the library, on the left-hand side of Adair Street if you're facing the water. Route 108 gets you the closest.)
Audiences are generally around 20-30 people, which in a venue that size is plenty of breathing room. There was more than that for Eine kleine nachtmusik, but that's something everyone's heard of.
Subject: Re:Re:Re:Chamber Music Night?
Fair enough. I will see you Friday.
It's on! Marcella thought, after she received Viviane's reply to her first email. She's actually interested! She is interested, right? She must be. If she really didn't want to go, she could have always made up an excuse or pretended her inbox ate my email. No, at this point I believe that it's safe to assume that either she wants more of my company, or at least that she's willing to put up with me for the sake of Schubert and frozen desserts.
So, Marcella thought, “is this a date? A friend-date? Are we even properly friends yet? We barely know each other. We've had one conversation. Maybe she knows all about me with her magic Sherlock Holmes powers, but all I know about her, really, is that she doesn't drive or cook from scratch much, she plays the cello and acoustic guitar, she's interested in geology but not majoring in it, and she has an impeccable fashion sense. How do I know we're even going to like each other much after spending hours in each others' company? Oh, please God, I hope we do. Marcella could not, personally, picture herself getting bored with Viviane's company, but some superstitious corner of her mind insisted on reviewing the negative possibilities.
Okay, she thought, Occam's Razor seems applicable here. Assume that she wants to see me again, no obscure ulterior motives. Now, what am I going to wear? Plenty of people wore street clothes to the library concerts, and sometimes Marcella did as well, but it could be fun to dress up on occasion. Also, if the outfit she'd worn grocery shopping was any indication, Viviane's own sense of style was fairly formal. It wouldn't do to look too sloppy.
The second question: butch up or femme up? Marcella briefly wondered if anyone but queer girls ever considered this issue. Since Marcella had no idea what kind of aesthetic Viviane appreciated in other people, she let herself be swayed by practical considerations. The weather's been mild lately, but this close to the waterfront it always gets chilly in the evenings. We'll be doing a lot of walking, most of it up or down hills. So, trousers and boots, not a pencil skirt and heels. And we'll be in and out of doors. Wear layers. Marcella decided on her best black jeans, flight jacket, motorcycle boots, a lightweight angora-blend turtleneck, and her off-white bamboo cloth fringed scarf to set the whole ensemble off. Amelia Earhart meets Joan Jett.
Well, this is... somewhat unexpected, Viviane thought, when she received Marcella's email. She really meant it. I didn't scare her off by, well, being me. Viviane hadn't believed that Marcella had been lying about wanting to continue their acquaintance, but she hadn't been holding her breath waiting for Marcella to make any further overtures. People so seldom said exactly what they meant, in Viviane's experience, and it wasn't always easy to tell whether the behavior of others was motivated by their own desires or the demands of social convention. It was also something of a novelty for anyone to like Viviane enough to do anything about it. However, everything Viviane knew about etiquette indicated that Marcella's behavior went well beyond the demands of basic graciousness. She made the first move, not me, Viviane thought. It's not as if I put her on the spot and she couldn't think of a graceful way to refuse.
Pleasing as this was, the prospect of three and a half to four hours in the company of other people, in public was a bit daunting. She played through the prospective evening in her mind. Gelato: I've never had it, but I do enjoy most frozen desserts. One doesn't have to keep up a constant stream of small talk when one is eating. If the shop isn't too noisy or crowded, this part should be fairly undemanding. If it is unduly noisy, I can always steer us down toward the waterfront on our walk. That's normally quiet in the evenings, and the lights on the water are rather pretty. Has Marcella seen them yet? She has an intrepid nature, by all indications, but most young women don't go for long walks after dark without a specific destination in mind. Viviane's mind briefly flitted through the various dire warnings she'd been given regarding socializing with near-strangers, and brushed them aside. An apartment-dwelling young woman with a roommate and no car has a vanishingly small chance of turning out to be a serial killer or kidnapper, she reflected, amused. If nothing else, where would she put her victims? You'd think even an exceptionally tolerant roommate would draw the line at dead bodies or trussed-up hostages littering the place. Viviane giggled a little at the mental image of Marcella's attempt to play innocent as her nameless, faceless, gluten-intolerant roommate berated her for hiding a corpse behind the living-room sofa.
The concert itself didn't pose too many potential problems. All one had to do was sit, listen, and appreciate or make snarky internal commentary in one's head, depending on the quality of the performance. Viviane's only worry was the potential size and density of the crowd. Marcella had claimed that there was usually “plenty of breathing room,” but Viviane had no idea if this Friday would be one of the exceptions, or what Marcella's standards of adequacy were in this context. Marcella was a rather smaller person than Viviane was, and by all indications rather more at ease around other life forms. Well, there was nothing for it. Viviane had managed to keep herself together in packed lecture halls, and even the full turnout of the Bellehaven Schubert Appreciation Society couldn't be worse than that.
All that remained was to plot out the route to Paradiso, decide what to wear, and make a list of a few potential conversational topics. Viviane was normally confident in her ability to think on her feet, but sustained polite conversation is not the sort of thing one wants to walk into completely unprepared.