The cafe was dark enough it could be mistaken for being closed. But there were people inside, and staff bustled from table to table, delivering drinks and small cakes on platters.
Most of the illumination came from candles on tables and the display cabinets that stretched along the right side of the cafe. On the left side of the store, a projected image of a clock provided some diffuse light. A trio of couples were sitting here and there. Two twenty-somethings and a vibrant elderly couple.
A laugh from the elderly woman and the faint sounds of dishes being washed in the back cut through the relative quiet.
There weren’t many tables that sat more than two, and Jasmine picked one further in. It was hard not to feel like she was underdressed even though she’d picked one of her nicer shirts, a wide-sleeve, wide-neck top that almost fell from the shoulders, and airy, summerweight pants. Maybe underdressed was the wrong word, though it wasn’t entirely wrong. It was as if she were intruding on this intimate setting. She hadn’t picked the location, and she wouldn’t have, if she were familiar with this place and given the choice.
She ordered tea and a brownie à la mode, got her tablet out, and got some work done while she waited.
“Hello? Hi, are you Lucy’s mom?”
Jasmine looked up. Avery’s mother wasn’t underdressed, and looked surprisingly at home in this place. She had makeup on, her hair was up, and she wore a lightweight blue blouse, skirt, and a silk scarf at the neck.
“Yes, I’m Jasmine. Hi! It’s so nice to meet you,” Jasmine said, with some genuine cheer.
Avery’s mother took a seat opposite Jasmine. “Hi. I’m Kelsey, Connor’s parking the car. We’ve nearly crossed paths a few times now. There was the school event, I think you were leaving just as we arrived-“
“Work, yes. My schedule is all over the place,” Jasmine said, wincing.
“-and a wave from a window.”
“Yes, absolutely, yes. I actually stepped outside my house to say hi but you’d moved on.”
“Did I? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. Gosh, that’s embarrassing.”
“I didn’t mean-“
“No, no. I didn’t mean anything by it. I don’t know. That might have been the time Kerry was crying in the back seat, or my father was needing the facilities. I do that a lot, actually. I get so caught up in things I lose track. I’m really glad we’re doing this. Connor!”
Connor was a trim man in just about every respect. Short red hair, short beard, well-fitted clothes on a lean body. He’d dressed up too. Kelsey was lucky.
“Hi! Hi, Jasmine, if I remember right? We had a conversation on the phone,” he greeted her. His handshake was two-handed and effortless, like he casually shook a lot of hands.
Jasmine nodded “We did. Thank you for having Lucy over.”
“I apparently snubbed Jasmine. By accident, I promise,” Kelsey said.
“It’s really okay. I- with Booker, my oldest, I was all over the place. He started running before he could walk and every time I thought, um, one year or two before he gets into girls or gets curious about drinking, he’d surprise me by a considerable margin.”
“Rowan was the same. More about getting into trouble. He was more careful with girls,” Connor told her.
“Ah yes. They were in the same cohort, weren’t they? Or even the same classes?”
“In the last year,” Kelsey said. She looked like she was in a good mood, leaning forward to practically beam at Jasmine. “Rowan wanted to at least try high school, make sure he was on the right track after all the homeschooling.”
“He was sick of us,” Connor said. “Rightly so.”
“No!” Kelsey said, laying a hand on Connor’s chest.
Jasmine missed that. That easy company and companionship. She still smiled. “Booker turned out well, though. I was worried for a time. Now he’s off to school and struggling a bit with the culture shock of the city and the expectations of one or two classes, but he’s doing really well.”
“That’s so great,” Kelsey said. “Rowan’s taking a year to figure things out.”
“Part of that is the long goodbye with his girlfriend,” Connor said. “It took them five seconds to fall in love and it’s taking a year to part and go their separate ways.”
“Heartbreaking,” Jasmine said. “Was it like that for you two?”
“The first part, yes,” Connor said, looking at Kelsey. “As for the second part, different era. I strongarmed Kelsey into following after me. Made it up to her after.”
“Keep making it up to me, mister,” Kelsey said, mock-stern.
“So are you two familiar with this place?”
Kelsey beamed. “I love this place. I know it’s an odd choice, but Connor has to twist my arm to get me to choose another location or activity for our date nights and anniversaries. We don’t get many chances to get away, especially while I’ve been traveling for work.”
“I know that pain,” Jasmine said. “Traveling out of town for work.”
“Yes, absolutely. I thought if we’re making plans to get away from the kids, why not cheat and treat ourselves?”
“It’s great.” And a little pricier than I would have gone for on my own. She thought of Verona’s dad and wondered what he’d think. “Verona’s father may not be able to make it.”
“Something about the hospital?” Connor asked.
“Yes. It’s been a little under a week, I’m not sure how mobile he feels.”
“And her mother? Can I ask?” Kelsey asked.
“I called, we had a long conversation. Did some catching up. We were friends, before, as much because of the girls putting us in close proximity as anything. She thinks if she had more notice and if we do this again, maybe without her dad present, she’d like to come into town and catch up. She feels starved for information on Verona.”
“I can’t help but read between the lines there,” Connor said. “Acrimonious?”
“I don’t want to dive into other people’s business-”
“But I think I would avoid-” Jasmine started, turning her head as the door to the cafe opened, bell giving a single ‘ding’. Verona’s dad loomed in the doorway. Far from trim, looking tired, he wore a work shirt and khakis. “-the subject of her mother.”
“Good to know, thank you,” Kelsey said, voice quiet and serious, in contrast to how she smiled and waved to Verona’s dad.
“Hi, Brett Hayward.”
“Kelsey, and this is Connor.”
“And you know Jasmine, of course.”
“I do. Thank you for looking in on me, Jasmine. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Good. Managing. Let’s see…” he plucked a mini-menu from between the salt and pepper shakers. He looked for about two seconds before saying, “All of this looks good enough I think I can justify using it as a trial run for my stomach.”
“I’m partial to the apple crumble,” Kelsey said.
“I’d go easy, Brett,” Jasmine said. “I’m not a doctor, but if your stomach is still inflamed-”
“Then I’ll suffer for it later.”
“Can I suggest plenty of water and half a portion size? That’s not medical advice, that’s me as a concerned friend, trying to mitigate the damage.”
“Water’s a good compromise. But when you’re as big a man as I am, unfortunately, I think a regular portion is a half portion,” he said.
Jasmine frowned at him, and almost said something about Verona being concerned, but she didn’t want to betray that trust, and both Kelsey and Connor looked uncomfortable, talking with one another about their orders.
“Do we order over there, or do they come to us?” Brett asked.
“I waved a waitress down when I ordered. Are you two decided?” Jasmine asked. She gave Brett a warning look, her eyes flicking to the menu.
“Yes, absolutely,” Kelsey said.
“She decided before we left the house,” Connor said, laughing.
They ordered. Apple crumbles à la mode for Kelsey and Brett, strawberry rhubarb pie for Connor, and some coffees, with water instead of coffee for Brett.
“What do you do, Brett? I feel like I’ve seen you around the office once or twice.”
“I think so. I was going to say. Our real role is specialized systems for departments. Too many office environments and official environments are running off of systems designed in the 90s, with java or basic. We’ll do a specialized system for H.R., or for I.T. tickets, or email streams. But our fallback bread and butter is installing server architecture, handling everything internal. Then I moonlight a bit at a second job, a group of smaller newspapers pay me to translate articles to the web and maintain an analogue with a paywall, keep everything running. It’s automated, they mostly forget I exist until something goes wrong, at which point all hell breaks loose and inevitably it’ll be when there’s freezing rain, trees taking down phone lines, and hell breaking loose at the office of my first job.”
“When it rains it pours,” Connor said.
Brett nodded, “Absolutely. Too much of the job is cleaning up after others. The younger generation is here and I wish they had more training or education. They come from Thunder Bay or Toronto or Ottawa prepared to change things before they’ve even seen how things are done or why.”
“What about you, Jasmine?” Kelsey asked, cutting in. “You travel?”
“I’m still a registered nurse,” Jasmine said. “Not with a hospital. For right now I’m working with a pharmaceutical company, I travel to patients homes, make sure they know how to store and use the medication provided. It’s serious medication, and the number of clients are relatively small, so I make triply sure they know everything they need to know, sit with them for the first few injections to make sure there’s no reaction. It’s not the work I’d choose. The pay is… doable. But the scheduling is entirely dependent on the clients.”
“I was wondering why it was so hectic,” Kelsey said.
“What would you do?” Connor asked. “Given the choice.”
“Working with patients at a hospital. The scheduling wouldn’t be perfect, necessarily, but at least I wouldn’t be driving two hours, sitting by a sleeping patient’s bedside for three hours, then driving home to get back at one in the morning.”
“Oh gosh,” Kelsey said.
“If you want, I can put in a word,” Connor said. “I know people. My brother does insurance with the hospital. I can tell them to keep an eye out for you.”
“I- I definitely wouldn’t object. If it’s no trouble.”
“Not at all,” Connor said, waving her off, like it was the simplest thing in the world. “It’s how these things happen.”
“We have nine to fives- or a nine to five and an eight to four, but we have to do so much juggling, what with my dad and the various kids and their schedules. And then summer hits, half of them are off doing their own thing, and I miss it.”
“Kelsey’s traveling to Thunder Bay every other week to move the main office,” Connor said. “But at least when she’s here, we can reconnect a bit. Do stuff like this.”
“We can’t do this when all the kids are around,” Kelsey said, laughing.
“You don’t bring your kids here?” Jasmine asked.
“I don’t think the business would survive it,” Connor said.
“How many?” Brett asked.
“Five. Oldest is twenty, youngest is six,” Connor answered.
“It’s exactly as chaotic as you imagine it,” Kelsey added, tittering.
“I guess that makes you the parenting experts at this table,” Jasmine said.
Kelsey laughed, looking almost scandalized. “No, no, no. Definite no to that. I think when Kerry is old enough to leave for college, I’m still going to feel like I’m learning the ropes.”
“Is Verona an only child?” Connor asked.
“She is. I’m happy it’s the case. I barely manage, I don’t know how you manage five.”
“We don’t!” Kelsey declared, through a laugh.
“We get by on a day by day basis,” Connor said.
Kelsey leaned over the table, simultaneously laying a hand on Jasmnie’s arm. “Before you boys arrived, I was telling Jasmine that I’m so glad we’re doing this. Our girls became such good friends, we should at least know each other. It’s so much easier when they’re young, or if they’re part of the homeschooling curriculum, because there’s more events that force the parents together, but like this, all the different work schedules…”
“Don’t even get me started on work schedules,” Brett told her.
“Brett,” Connor said, affecting a very serious tone. He held his coffee cup up near his face, leaning over the table, and wagged the index finger of his other hand. “If you’re not going to do it in the here and now, when will you get the chance?”
“Haha, sure. I’ll keep that in mind then.”
Jasmine’s smile was a tight one.
Kelsey turned to Jasmine. “You had to leave the one school event, and I think at one point you said all three were at your apartment but you were off to work?”
“Yes,” Jasmine said, a bit wary. “I figured they’re either out wandering and there are parts of town I wouldn’t want them to do that in-”
“Of course,” Connor said.
“-It’s better if there are four walls around them. As long as they have a television and computer, they can occupy themselves, and Lucy’s very responsible. Worryingly responsible.”
“I think you could put Verona in an empty room and she’d be happy as can be, off in her own little world,” Brett said.
“Maybe,” Jasmine said, and the smile wasn’t tight, this time. “She’s a great kid. Avery too, she’s a gem. I’m so glad they connected.”
“Yes!” Kelsey said. She had a bite of apple crumble in her mouth as she exclaimed, and covered her mouth as she spoke. She hurried to swallow. “Mm! I was so relieved.”
Brett adjusted his seat in his chair, laying a hand on his stomach. “Verona hid Avery away when they came by, the last time. I think she’s at that stage where she’s embarrassed by her dad.”
“Yes, it’s so tough, it’s hard,” Kelsey said. “They’re trying to find themselves, and that means pulling away. Are we okay with the topic, by the way? Can we talk about the girls? I think if we get onto the subject, we might end up going down memory lane, and it might be hard to find the off-ramp.”
“I wanted to talk about them, yes,” Jasmine said. “Nothing serious. Just touching base.”
“I suppose,” Brett said, sighing. “It’s tricky.”
“You’re talking about Verona pulling away, Brett,” Kelsey said, “disconnecting from the parents, becoming independent-”
“-rebellious, even. I’ll be upfront, I think we messed up with Avery. She had such a hard time, moving from homeschool to regular high school, and we missed it.”
“Kids change,” Brett said. “It catches you off guard.”
“It caught us off guard,” Kelsey said. “A teacher had to tip us off that Avery wasn’t doing well. She didn’t feel comfortable telling us.”
“It’s humbling,” Connor said. “So much of how we’ve approached parenting is- you come home with your first kid and you’re terrified. They’re so small, so fragile, and all you can do is act like you know what you’re doing, be confident, fake it until you make it. The more confident you are, the more fluidly it all seems to go. Until you run face-first into a wall.”
Jasmine nodded, holding her tea in front of her mouth with both hands. “I’ve smacked into that wall.”
“We’ve done it twice now in a matter of months with Avery.”
“We’re not sure about the second,” Kelsey said.
“Sheridan pretty much confirmed it. I look back and I think, how could I not have seen the signs? How could I not have been paying attention? So many assumptions, the stupid confidence…”
“You can do everything right and they’ll still find ways to surprise you,” Brett said. “Not that I’m doing everything right. Just the opposite. But I’ve got to salvage my ego where I can. It’s hard, when you have a kid as imaginative as Verona or headstrong as Lucy-”
Jasmine raised an eyebrow.
“-she is headstrong, Jasmine. And- sorry. Verona hasn’t introduced me to Avery. But every hint I’ve managed to get has suggested she’s a stellar kid.”
“She is,” Connor replied, with a smile. “How is she getting along with the others?”
“It’s so hard,” Jasmine said, “Lucy and Verona have known each other since they were five. That’s eight years of history and being on each other’s wavelength to break into.”
“Is she getting along with either of the two more?” Connor asked. He looked at Kelsey, who frowned.
“I couldn’t say,” Jasmine admitted. “But I don’t see any sign she’s not getting along with either of the other two. She’s upbeat and helpful if I have Lucy and her helping me put dinner together.”
“We tried that with our kids, but it ended in tears and chaos so many times…” Kelsey added, wincing. “We gave Rowan a crash course in adulting this year, now that he’s talking about moving out. That may be the policy for the rest of them.”
“She does just fine. They seem to get along. The hardest thing is trying to keep them in one place for longer than it takes to feed them before they run off to do who-knows-what.”
“Maybe I could have Avery over more,” Brett said. “I could do with that good cheer rubbing off on Verona.”
“Not so good?” Kelsey asked.
“No. Not good. Verona’s moody. I’d chalk it up to hormones, but there’s a guy at my office who is all about weightlifting and I’m pretty sure he gets some chemical help, and there’s none of that with him.”
“What’s the problem?” Jasmine asked.
“It’s like her skin crawls if she’s in my company for more than five seconds, she runs off to her room or leaves the house at the next opportunity. I can talk to her in the most reasonable tone, as level as the tone I’m using with you now, explaining matter of fact things, and she’ll respond with literal screams.”
“Sheridan’s had her moments,” Connor said to Kelsey.
“This was weeks of moments,” Brett said. “I was looking things up and thinking about oppositional defiant disorder.”
Jasmine asked, “Could it be what you’re saying? Even if it’s reasonable, the wrong things might-?”
“I don’t really think so, Jasmine. I can’t talk to her about my work, basic household needs, school and homework… and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to talk to her at all. I can’t help but feel like we’d be best friends if we could just have a single conversation without the screaming, door slamming, or her finding some excuse to run off.”
“What was she like before?” Connor asked.
“So clever in many ways that she outsmarted her way out of doing well in school. She took up habitual lying…”
“Oh yeah,” Jasmine said. “I remember that.”
“It’s that imagination,” Jasmine said. “She had no outlet. She stopped art, and she had nothing, so she started telling stories.”
“The teachers caught on,” Brett said. “And teachers talk to one another. I think it impacts her classes, because they don’t trust her from day one. I can’t even blame them when I have to pause to double check if what she’s saying lines up with reality.”
“It’s been a while since she did that,” Jasmine told him.
“It comes up now and then. Nothing about Verona has been easy. Except, I suppose I’m lucky she’s slow to develop. She’s the most kid-like of the three, I think. A late bloomer.”
“Not that late, Brett,” Jasmine said.
“Oh no. Don’t tell me that.”
“When she and Lucy were old enough to know how to navigate the web but young enough to not know about internet history, let’s just say the searches I saw raised a few eyebrows. Only when Verona was there.”
Brett put his face into his hands. Kelsey laughed.
“I had filters in place, but Verona and Lucy are clever. They would have been about eleven. And I’ve seen more hints lately.”
Verona’ sketchbook. She’d shown Jasmine a picture she was drawing of Booker for Lucy, and some of the pages she’d flipped through… unabashedly into drawing figure studies of boys and men. Some women, but it was a ten to one. And then there was the app.
“What about Lucy?” Connor asked.
“Has little crushes, I asked when the class photo for picture day was delivered, she made me guess, and I guessed wrong about four times. Just, um, Brett, before the conversation moves on, if you haven’t had the conversation with her about the birds and the bees, because you think Verona’s a late bloomer, you should.”
“I gave her a book.”
“Um, okay, but if that isn’t enough, you know, talk to her-”
“I can’t,” Brett said. He looked frustrated and flustered. “I can’t talk to her about anything right now. I’ll admit it, I’m a bad parent. I failed, I screwed up raising her, with everything going on. I’m so busy, nothing’s easy.”
“She’s a good kid,” Jasmine said. “She is.”
“Teenage girls are hard,” Connor said.
“I didn’t understand them when I was a teenager, and we didn’t have the internet then, or these social dynamics.”
“Reach out?” Jasmine asked. “If it’s about the talk and you don’t want to direct her to her mother-”
“-I’m happy to teach her the essentials. With your permission. And you know, there’s therapy.”
“If only I could afford sending her to therapy.”
“For you and her both, Brett. It’s a two-way street. You find a way.”
“I thought about one of those wilderness survival retreats. You know those? Send the kid out into the woods to rough it, disconnect from technology and outside influences, make them build their own fires, teach them self-reliance and discipline, respect for authority?”
“I think that would be like putting a penguin in the desert,” Jasmine told him.
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Brett asked.
“Avery would probably love that,” Kelsey said. “If there was teamwork, nature…”
“They can be problematic,” Connor said. “It’s hard enough handing your kids off to a school, but something like that, where there’s no checks or balances?”
“It ended up being a moot point anyway,” Brett said. “Since they left for another thing, this summer.”
“I meant to ask about that,” Kelsey said. “Where-”
“Excuse me,” the elderly couple from a few booths down interrupted. They’d finished and were getting by. Verona’s dad was heavyset, and sat with his back to the aisle. The couple had to navigate by. He scooted in, then winced.
“You okay?” Jasmine asked.
He nodded, but he was flushed and sweating.
“Sorry, you were saying?” Jasmine asked Kelsey.
Kelsey snapped her finger a few times, eyes roving, trying to remember. “Oh! I’m not sure if this was it, but while we’re talking about influences, sorry, I came armed with a few questions. I hope you don’t mind. I haven’t been able to get a straight answer out of Avery.”
“Me too,” Jasmine admitted. “My own questions.”
Kelsey flashed her a smile. “The influences and people our kids are around. Names came up.”
“Matthew and Edith? Ring any bells? Relatives of yours?”
Jasmine shook her head.
“No,” Brett said.
“What was the context?” Jasmine asked.
“I don’t know. But I’ve overheard bits now and then. When Lucy and Avery were getting ready for the party.”
“Classmates?” Jasmine asked.
“Not on the class list. They aren’t teachers at the school either. Their teachers last year were Lai, Sitter, uhhh, Bader-”
Jasmine made a face.
“Saw that,” Kelsey said. “I want to ask about that. Um, and Hardy.”
Connor sighed at that last name.
“And I heard that,” Jasmine said.
“I’m having trouble keeping up,” Brett said.
“Ummm, putting this… what was it? Matthew and Edith?”
“Putting them aside. Bader was… not the best with Lucy.”
“He’s been a really solid coach for Avery.”
“I believe you, but separate from that, he singled out Lucy all semester.”
“She can be hard to get along with,” Brett said.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean that she has a strong personality and she doesn’t budge easily if she thinks she’s right. It’s like with Verona and the chronic lying. Teachers have so many students, they rely on shorthand. And first impressions set the starting point. If that starting point isn’t great…”
“Lucy’s instinct was that there was something race-driven about it. The fact that he fixated on her washing her hair, refused to hear different, and was resistant to my input on the matter until I threatened to go to others… I do believe her.”
“Has he said anything specific? Or done anything?” Kelsey asked.
“No, I wish it were that easy. And so does Lucy for that matter. No. But even if you take race out of the equation, he was still singling out a student and that’s not great.”
“Is it possible she did something wrong at the start of the semester-?” Brett asked. He stopped as Jasmine looked at him, frowning.
“Brett. Remember that conversation we had, way back when, a little awkward? Verona and Lucy were on the play structure, Verona with the kitty hat, Lucy with the neon pink coat. And Lucy was so mad at you and-” and your wife. She turned to Kelsey and Connor. “-she’d slept over, had a bath with Verona, they washed and blow-dried Lucy’s hair, and it was a-”
“Disaster. Yeah,” Brett said.
“Poor girl,” Kelsey said.
“I don’t blame you, Brett. Hair types vary. Lucy’s is different from mine. We had a few misfires before figuring out the best approaches. But you asked, you were upfront-”
“About being an idiot about these things.”
“This is one of those cases you wanted me to get out in front of, tell you straight. Lucy’s instinct is that Mr. Bader’s first impression of her was her skin. She might be young but she’s been around that block a few times, she got bullied by some older kids at the lake. Some classmates picked on her until others put them into check. She kicks herself and dwells on stuff if she gets it wrong, it’s why she’s overly mature and way too serious sometimes. If there was something that set off Mr. Bader like you’re implying, I think she would have fixated on that.”
“Trust her instincts?” Kelsey asked. “Is this something we need to act on? Mr. Bader?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so,” Jasmine said. “I talked to the school. If they’re aware of it and he’s aware of it hopefully the next non-white student that walks through the doors gets it easier. I just hate that- it impacts Lucy’s confidence, you know? It puts her on the defensive. Would Avery have found sports like she did if she was having to hold back? Or if her teachers were fixating just a little bit more on what she did wrong than on what she was doing right?”
“Avery’s wobbled,” Connor said. “Confidence-wise. She’s had rough patches. I can imagine the wrong comment or a bit more resistance tipping her over, or pushing her into giving up.”
“Or running away,” Kelsey said.
“Yeah,” Jasmine answered. “That’s it, isn’t it? Life can be hard. A little bit more difficulty can turn a speed bump into a wall you have to scale.”
“I wanted to ask,” Kelsey said, “the day Lucy first came over?”
“Yeah,” Jasmine said, pursing her lips. She’d anticipated this.
“What’s this?” Brett asked. “Verona doesn’t tell me these things.”
“It was just Lucy and Avery. I imagine Verona got filled in,” Jasmine said.
Kelsey shook her head. “What happened? We only got bits and pieces. They left laughing, leaving Sheridan drenched in ice water, and Avery came back shell-shocked.”
“Lucy ran into the man who would have been her stepdad.”
“Paul?” Brett asked.
“I liked Paul. Still run into him from time to time.”
“What happened?” Kelsey asked.
“He broke all of our hearts when he left. I didn’t realize how much Lucy was holding onto it. And then with everything about Mr. Bader, about the way the world is…”
“Pent up?” Connor asked.
“I’m not even sure that’s the right word. Unresolved? Unanswered? These things happen and she’s just had to let them go. But sometimes when you let things go, that doesn’t mean you’re free of it.”
“Then Paul,” Connor said.
“Then Paul. He wanted to go, she wanted resolution, it was the last straw on the camel’s back. She couldn’t let it go.”
“Ah,” Connor said.
“If the gas station attendant had called the police or if Paul had been- I don’t want to say less kind, because the dick couldn’t even give her a straight answer, but if he’d made an issue of it, she could have gotten into deep trouble,” Jasmine sighed. “I got her into therapy, she knows what she did was wrong, we’re doing what we can-”
“Is she okay now?” Kelsey asked.
Jasmine shrugged. “The therapist said that- um, this was the old therapist, not a good fit, we changed, but he wasn’t entirely wrong either. He said that as much as I or Lucy might want to look at this as a resolution, a release, it isn’t. All of that stress and worry and lack of resolution is still there. It’s not fixed or better. She’s certainly not happier or healthier in the wake of it. We put supports in place. She’s got the girls- I hope she’s got the girls, that this doesn’t change things.”
“She’s so good for Avery,” Kelsey said.
“I couldn’t separate her from Lucy if I tried,” Brett said.
“Okay, good. Yeah, we can work on coping mechanisms. But all of that is still there. I still think back to moments when I was Lucy’s age. When my mom was shamed in front of me. That, um-” Jasmine picked a tear out of the corner of her eye with a thumbnail. “-It sits with you. It changes how I act as a mother with Lucy and Booker. You know?”
Kelsey and Connor nodded. Brett had a concerned look on his face. He looked uncomfortable, one hand at his stomach.
“It doesn’t go away. These things accumulate and unless the world drastically changes, they’ll always be factors, always unresolved or left as questions unanswered. I’d love to tell you she’s better, you don’t have to worry, but I really don’t know. I don’t know if she’ll blow up again, or what she’ll do if it gets to be too much.”
“I hope us meeting like this to compare notes at least helps,” Kelsey said, laying both of her hands over Jasmine’s.
“It does. They’re pulling away, far too soon, they feel so distant.”
“I think if we do this again, we need wine, to drown these melancholy feelings,” Kelsey said.
“Please,” Jasmine said.
“It’s a happy sort of melancholy, isn’t it?” Connor asked. “They’re growing up.”
Brett groaned. “Give me the ten year old Verona back. She was so happy as a kid. Less screaming, for one thing.”
“It’s good, Brett,” Connor said. “Part of the process.”
“I’m gonna- dessert isn’t sitting so well with me,” Brett said, rising from his seat. “excuse me.”
“I told you,” Jasmine told him.
“Yeah, yep, sure. You sounded a lot like your daughter with that line.”
“Good, I’m glad. As much as I worry, I adore her, top to bottom.”
“Mm,” he grunted. Still halfway through getting up, he paused, not moving, like any movement at all would be too much.
“Mmm,” he grunted.
He walked off.
“I wanted to ask about Julie Hardy,” Connor said. “Going back to the subject of influences-”
“Don’t,” Kelsey said. “Please let’s not.”
“What’s this?” Jasmine asked.
“She helped us a lot, tipping us off that things were wrong,” Kelsey said. “I brought it up earlier. Connor and I have been divided about her role with Avery. I have no complaints, myself, she’s been very upfront, there are rules about teachers counseling students. She’s been kind, caring, and considerate-”
“I don’t disagree with any of that,” Connor said. “Really. I don’t. But I personally think back to when I was a teenager. I was awkward and struggled and I tried on a lot of different hats and explored a lot of different identities as a way of diagnosing and trying to fix what was wrong with me. When it was just regular puberty.”
“It’s not a hat, Connor,” Kelsey said.
“Hear me out. Okay? Avery was drowning, and Julie Hardy was like a life raft. So she clings. Mrs. Hardy is traveled and talks about her travels in class and Avery starts talking about wanting to go globetrotting when she’s old enough.”
“That sounds great,” Jasmine said. “Interest in the world?”
“She was always going to be someone who wanted to travel,” Kelsey said.
“And then the tattoos- Julie has tattoos, so Avery expressed interest. Other stuff? I worry that the homeschooling may have left her without defenses. Kids want to be like their mom and dad, and then as they go to school they meet more adults and the world slowly broadens, but she jumped in with both feet first, straight to high school-”
“She does that. Can we let this go, Connor, and talk about it later?”
“Just, do you see where I’m coming from? The degree of influence, when a kid is vulnerable?”
“Which she’s cognizant about and taking all appropriate steps with. I don’t think Julie Hardy will even be teaching her next year.”
“She might be, and if she isn’t, she’ll still be at the school. I’m just trying to figure out-”
“Can we not argue?” Kelsey asked. “People are noticing, and I like this place.”
Connor frowned, looking around.
“There’s a lot going on,” Kelsey told Jasmine. “It complicated things. This is… secondary to the big questions. We have to have a massive discussion with Avery later.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, no. There’s nothing we can do until we’ve talked to Avery,” Kelsey said. She raised her eyebrows, forehead wrinkling, as she looked at Connor. “Figured out what we’re doing.”
“We’ll have to meet like this again. We may go over it with you later. Um, but, Jasmine, you said you had something on your list, a serious question you wanted to ask? You didn’t get a straight answer.”
“Right, yes,” Jasmine said. “Right, um. So there are a few open secrets and other secret-secrets that go around. The kids as a whole get up to stuff.”
“Right, yeah,” Kelsey said, frowning. “I worry sometimes. It’s why we had Connor doing the homeschooling, at first. But we let our kids be free-range.”
“You have to. You absolutely have to,” Jasmine agreed. “So this is touchy, because I don’t want to violate confidences. There’s things I can’t get into-” like the fucking app. “But I’m sure you were aware of the party at the end of the year. They went to your place to get ready?”
“Yes. Yep. There were older kids chaperoning. We were told no drinking, no drugs.”
Jasmine made a face. “From what I found out from Booker a few years back, that can vary.”
“We told the girls that if anything happened, if they were uncomfortable or anything, we’d come get them, no questions asked, no fuss raised,” Connor said. “I hope that wasn’t overstepping.”
“I said something similar to Lucy,” Jasmine said. “But what happened?”
“Well you read the paper, didn’t you?” Kelsey asked.
Jasmine shook her head. “I don’t have the time. I listen to the news, but that’s usually when I’m driving out to a client, and the radio stations are more for the general area than Kennet.”
“Okay, wow, this is delicious, weird, and worrying, but… some man crashed the party, apparently high as a kite…”
“I don’t miss that part of things,” Brett said.
Kelsey and Connor were bickering a bit beside their car. The topic had turned back to the Global Studies class and the teacher Avery had a crush on. Avery had told her before she’d told her own parents. It made the entire discussion hard. She didn’t want to violate confidences.
Jasmine folded her arms.
Kelsey got into the car, slamming the door. Connor didn’t get into the car, standing there.
Fuck. Fuck. Jasmine could have spit.
“How are you?” Jasmine asked. “Stomach okay?”
“No,” Brett said.
“You okay to drive?”
“Got to, can’t leave my car parked here,” he said. His stomach audibly burbled, and a look of pain crossed his face.
“Drive safe. Go see a doctor if it’s not better in the morning.”
“Okay,” he said.
“I mean it.”
He raised a hand in a wave, climbing into his car with a glacial slowness.
She’d promised to report in to Verona and Lucy, but she wasn’t sure how to report on this. Would she say Verona’s dad was better? Or was he not, but being an idiot? He was out of the woods, but she was worried at the same time? Lucy was anxious and Verona had an active imagination and she had…
…She had no idea where they were at mentally, right now.
Brett drove off. Kelsey started up the car. Driving off, leaving Connor on the sidewalk.
He meandered over.
“Want a ride?” Jasmine asked.
“No. I’m going to walk. Clear my head, think about things.”
“This was nice. Thank you for arranging it,” he said.
“We should do it again,” she told him. “When we can get schedules to align.”
She gave the roof of her car a pat, wondering how to disengage.
“About Brett,” Connor said.
“Avery has expressed some concerns to her mom. I was hoping to get a clear picture about why, but… Brett’s take is only half a picture, isn’t it?”
“How worried should we be? You know him.”
“I don’t know. Lucy stopped going over to spend the night and I nudged her into following her gut.”
“You talked to Verona’s mom? Get any clues there?”
“I talked to her, but nothing in the way of clues. She’s- before you arrived, Kelsey talked about getting so caught up in things she’d lose track.”
“Oh yeah,” Connor said.
“It’s like that. But it wasn’t one semester at school. It’s been ongoing. She’s more in the dark about these girls than any of us who were at the table tonight. It’s hard to figure out where to assign the blame, there.”
“I assign myself a lot of blame for that one semester Avery slipped through the cracks.”
“But it’s not that cut and dry. Verona was as mad as a wet cat after the divorce, her dad whispering in one ear, her mom not pushing back or doing the same back. She pushed her mom away, her dad pushed her away, she was busy, had a lot of opportunities, and nobody but her seemed to want her to stick around, so she went. Now she’s out of the loop. She said Verona asked about her moving back here and letting her move in-”
“Chance to reconnect?”
“But she wasn’t in a position to. She’d have to quit and she wouldn’t have a job lined up here. The closest would be Brett’s company. So…”
“No middle ground?” Connor asked.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. I- I don’t know how she phrased it or what other considerations went into it, I don’t know any of that. Verona takes in stuff and digests it privately, and her mom’s similar to her in that. The thought processes behind the scenes can be impenetrable sometimes.”
“And we don’t know about Brett?”
“We know it’s not great. We’re all- me, teachers, Verona, Lucy, we’re aware of different parts of it. We keep an eye out, try to piece together a picture.”
“I guess you’ll have me and Kel as part of that. Does he play any sports?”
“Or- does he go to the bar?”
Jasmine shook her head.
“I’ll try to contrive some excuse to hang out. Dad and dad. Sound things out.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine said, looking in the direction Brett’s car had gone.
“Nights like tonight are good. They help. What, um- was there any one thing that made you want to do it?”
Jasmine shook her head. “A bad feeling.”
“A bad feeling?”
“Like I don’t know how Lucy is. The last time I felt that distance widening, she blew up at Paul. Now it feels wider than before.”
“Another blow-up incoming?”
“I don’t- therapy’s equipped her with better tools. What I was saying before, about how frustrated she is at the state of things? Big and small? That’s there and I don’t know how she’s sitting with it, I don’t know where she stands, if the kids and staff at camp are being good to her or if there are Mr. Baders and Paul incidents stacking up, unbeknownst to me.”
“Wasn’t it a summer school?”
“Thank you!” a member from the cafe called out. They were locking up. “Have a good night!”
Jasmine and Connor waved.
“I just-” Jasmine started, stopped, shook her head. “If she’s going to be pushed to take action, I want it to be later. When she’s equipped, educated, grounded and secure in herself. Change the world, you know?”
“And if you don’t have those things, that grounding, education, preparation, what happens? Another Paul incident.”
Connor ran his hand over his head, through short hair.
He didn’t have an answer. If there was an answer that could have come that easily, Jasmine probably would’ve already been able to manage.
“About Avery,” she said.
He looked at her
“She’s so terrific. Whatever it is you’re so stuck on… things have to start and stop at her happiness.”
“I just want to make sure it’s her happiness, and not some teacher’s take that she’s been inspired by.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works. She’s a good kid, Connor. I think you should trust her instincts. She knows her own experience better than anyone.”
“You sure you don’t want that ride? It’s a long way. I’d stay and chat, but I’m getting chilly. We can keep talking in the car.”
“I’ll walk and think, I think. You should go. Thank you.”
She nodded, climbed into her car, and started it up, leaving him there.
“Can we talk about the girls?”
“We have to, don’t we?”
“End of summer. The judges will force John to take the Carmine seat.”
“It’s a shame. I like John. But we have to-”
“Destroy him. I will. I don the furs, I deal with him, I take the seat. Then that’s it. Everything falls into place, Kennet is taken care of. The rest of us are taken care of. The only thing is-“
“The girls. Miss picked some scarily good ones. I keep being surprised.”
“Can we deal with them? I don’t want to kill them.”
“We’ll avoid it if we can. Let John be the only casualty.”
“I wish we hadn’t let them go to that school. They’ll come back with a lot of knowledge.”
“Miss again. Is it bad if I hope this school incident leaves them… less capable of mustering their full strength?”
“I don’t want them hurt any more than I want them killed. They’re playing their part. Let’s put our energy into playing our parts well enough that everything goes smoothly. Counteract, distract, whatever we need to do. We all need to be on the same page.”
“I’ll pass it on. You just be ready. Depending on how this ends, they either come back soon or they come back educated. Both pose their own problems.”
Given that last conversation… if Lucy does take the plunge and invite John to be her Familiar, that would throw a monkey wrench into their plans, wouldn’t it?
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Probably. But maybe not a big one. I think they have to kill John because the Judges will force him to be the next Carmine, but killing him also makes their claim stronger. If John can’t become the next Carmine because he’s a Familliar, then they don’t have to kill him, but they also don’t get that extra claim.
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ohhhhhhh dang! what a surprise!
VD has a first name!
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Brett was… the correct amount of ignorant schlub this chapter. Wrong enough that he needed to be put back in place, and has a very distorted view of the interaction with V, but also like…not obviously horrible enough that everyone else is going to notice.
The Kelsey and Connar double act was clever, and felt very much like they were trying to model good parenting attitutudes towards Brett… but also came off as sort of… fake? Artificial…
Which makes sense. Kelsey was all friendly, but has been actively warned about Brett being a bit off, so those two was very much a double act .
Jasamine was great. Do appreciate her careful and intelligent handling of all the other parents.
And the Epilogue…. sounds VERY much like Mathew and Edith.
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I’ve been low key suspicious for a bit, but maybe this is their plan to shuck the DOOM. +1 to the M/E train.
Brett was exactly what I expected. Sadly.
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The lack of names might hint to a surprise incoming. Maybe it’s just one of them talking with the Other in their bellies.
Brett seems a lot more human from this perspective. I’m glad that the other parents picked up that he wasn’t telling the whole story. I’m a bit uncertain if he’s putting on a show for the public, or if this is who he really is in general — that is, does he see the whole world like he sees Verona and he’s good at hiding it, or does his issue only extend to Verona (or maybe her mother, and Verona by association) herself?
I can see where you’re coming from about Kelsey and Connor feeling artificial, but it feels artificial in a sort of natural way, if you know what I mean? That’s sort of how I feel in social interactions. I’m not normally that kind of outgoing where I can just casually meet up with people I barely know, so when I do have to open up it halfway feels like it’s an act. I’m outside of my comfort zone, trying my best to fit in and be the person I imagine myself being. It’s not exactly fake, but it’s also not the day-to-day version of myself, and I don’t have a lot of experience being that person.
I’m… going to hold off on speculating about the epilogue.
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Loved this chapter – great to get more of the parents’ perspectives!
Last segment was also interesting – John joins Miss in the “pretty conclusively exonerated” camp, and Toadswallow is looking a little less suspicious, since he’s not around to be part of this conversation (although maybe he’s the person the non-italicized speaker is going to “pass it on” to?).
The vibe I got initially was that the non-italicized person is Matthew and the italicized person is Edith, but who knows – on re-reading it does feel like some parts of this are things they already would’ve discussed, so maybe it’s two characters who have a bit less contact with each other.
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I think Toadswallow is not the part of murder conspiracy, but prepares instead to take over Kennet when “Team Murder” and “Team Justice” will have a showdown? It was heavily implied in his interlude IIRC.
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Interesting – that’s a possibility I didn’t really consider! I took his recruitment speech to mean that he was secretly mustering forces for the showdown, but didn’t get a firm impression as to what his motive was and whom exactly he wanted to hide it from.
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I dunno if Toady is angling to take over Kennet, but he clearly has some of his own plans to make the best of the fight that’s brewing.
I would honestly be a little disappointed in him if that were not the case.
“Well, this has turned into a bloody mess. I think I do my best work with messes, don’t you, Cherrypop?”
“…are you calling me a mess?”
Epilogue is very much like Matthew and Edith, and yet I still think that Matthew is kept in dark and only Edith is part of the conspiracy. Maybe Edith, Charles, Guilherme (and Maricica?). First three have easy motives – Edith to get rid out of Doom (and maybe to have and ability to have a child?), Charles to rid of being forsworn, and Guilherme to protect himself from falling into Winter.
What I don’t exactly understand is why Charles went to Carmine Beast specifically about being forsworn? Why to that exact Judge?
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I’m too lazy to go back and look, but I had the impression the Carmine Beast was somehow more local to Kennet than the other judges? Could be making it up.
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The Carmine Beast was, I think, hunter and hunted. Charles was forsworn, so he is everything’s prey. Not sure about the other Judges, but that right there’s a good reason to visit.
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Thank you, this makes sense. Didn’t think about “forsworn=prey”.
Because the CB is in charge of the region that he university is in. It would have the final say over whatever the spirits had decided.
Aren’t all four Judges in charge of the same large region, just responcible for different types of Others, relations and such?
i really loved this chapter! every moment when i could SEE the connection blocker working was neat, and the subtle bad vibes coming from brett… like obviously hes arguably a decent dude, i feel sorry for him a bit, but theres small unpleasant hints here and there. hes just… so oblivious! he genuinely thinks that veronas being unreasonable!
interesting to see how exactly it is connors reacting to this. sort of tactless and clumsy, but genuinely trying to be good. hopefully he’ll have gotten all of this ‘its just hero worship’ stuff out of his head by the time avery gets back. its good that her mom seems entirely on board at least.
god i love jasmine a lot. she deserves the whole world. i hope she gets that in hospital job! it was fun getting to see more of her, and seeing kelsey be all friendly with her. jasmine needs more of a support network. god, just imagining how horrified these parents would be if they knew even HALF of the stuff their kids have actually been getting up to…
also ooh that last converastion was very tasty. matthew and edith, probably? could be charles or maricica as well. it sounds like more than just two people are in on this. its good to have the confirmation that miss ISNT, however. and gosh, i really want for john to be saved! hes so damned likable, i love that guy.
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“he genuinely thinks Verona is being unreasonable”
Congrats, you’ve been conned. People like this will always do this. They’ll set themselves as the ‘reasonable’ one (and fuck do they love to use these words), they’re uncertain why this is happening to them; they mean well but just have no idea what to do with this completely unexpected and impossible situation!
You can tell, for example, because he offered a bunch of topics he can’t talk about but you don’t see him trying new ones or even considering trying out something else. He puts himself down as a parent ,but doesn’t even consider the advice people give him. He suggests interest, but his proposed solution is to send Verona away even though he knows she’d hate it.
He isn’t clueless. He knows he is wrong and he is doing his damn best to damage control the other parent’s perception of him. This is calculated.
If he was truly just trying to do better he’d be less eager to complain and actually take the advice/ask follow up questions.
Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt like this. If even with Verona’s POV you’re still willing to, imagine how kids who can only tell you and not show feel when they handle this.
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How do you figure? I really don’t think he’s that calculating, or that self-aware, and even if he was, I don’t see what motive he could have. It’s not like he gains anything from being a bad father. If he knew how to be a better person, he could just do that and not have to defend his actions.
Most people don’t readily accept that they’re wrong, and when they do, that almost always involves changing one’s mind. When you realize that you’re wrong about something, you don’t keep holding the wrong belief. Assuming that someone believes they’re in the right isn’t “giving them the benefit of the doubt”, it’s common sense.
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It’s not so much what he gains, it’s damage control. You see him complaining a lot about his works/his interactions with Verona but even as Brett says he is a bad parent he doesn’t take any of the blame for any of the things that are going wrong. He points them to issues with other people/Verona. He is the victim of his own unfortunate circumstances and has no idea how they came to be/knows it’s not anything he did.
People don’t like accepting they’re wrong, yeah but it’s a bit more extreme when you progress from not wanting to be wrong to blaming literally everything else except your own behaviour. Brett has gone over that hill a while back, I feel.
My reading might be more uncharitable than he deserves however. When he said every interaction with her ends in her yelling I lost my last shred of hope that he was just a clueless fellow, to be honest. Verona shuts down, even Jasmine knows this. To come out and say she is yelling all over the place when she only did it once, at a time she though one of her friends might well die(altought he doesn’t know this.), and did so only after attempting to assuage him and he refused is… not a good look.
I’d love for you to be right and he is just being a stubborn idiot but from my own experiences, this rubs me the wrongest of ways.
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He has, but I don’t think he did it with malice aforethought. I think it’s sincere projection. He’s blaming everyone else for his own failures, not because he doesn’t want others to notice his failures, but because he himself doesn’t want to confront his failures. It’s a coping mechanism. He gives the others here a skewed account of his relationship with Verona because he has a skewed view of it.
And yeah, some of the skews are pretty big, like him implying that Verona screaming at him is constant, instead of a one-off thing, but I have great faith in people’s ability to lie to themselves.
I’m not saying he’s just a stubborn idiot. I don’t think he’s evil in the same way Kevin Noone is, but he’s still a complete failure as a parent, and barely functional as a human being.
These two statements aren’t incompatible. He very well might genuinely believe what he says, and it is his perception that is warped instead of any sort of conscious attempt at manipulation.
The connection blocker was an utter delight ❤
(I’m glad the other adults are keeping an eye on Verona.)
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I absolutely adore the fact that these 4 parents are connecting, and each Family Unit is walking away as better people because of it. VD has a Dad’ly friend lined up, Connor has gotten the chance to talk about his feelings with Avery’s sexuality without being cold shutout by his partner (which is absolutely a reasonable reaction, especially given the fact the 2 of them have been having that argument for most of the summer, but also is frustrating because the man’s getting caught in mental loops), and Jasmine’s hopefully about to ride the wave of Word of Mouth recommendations.
This feels like a natural extension of the Kenneteer’s “the universe conspires to keep us together”. If their parents are closer as friends, and are being uplifted by one another, isn’t it that much less of a struggle to be with each other?
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he plucked > He plucked
nodded, “Absolutely. > nodded. “Absolutely.
patients homes > patients’ homes
Jasmnie’s > Jasmine’s
Sitter (intentional? previously Sitton)
seat. “excuse > seat. “Excuse
He looked at her (missing fullstop)
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“à la mode”
“Too many office environments and official environments are running off of systems designed in the 90s, with java or basic.”
It’s your world, Wildbow, and you can certainly do what you want. But being a software engineer myself, this took me out of the story a bit. BASIC was a hobby language, not really useful for making practical programs, and Java (despite many complaints) is still widely used and not just in legacy code. May I recommend COBOL, Pascal, or FORTRAN as replacements?
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I suggest using this oddity to infer more about Brett instead.
Assume that by Basic he means Visual Basic (+ MS Access probably).
Regarding Java, but don’t forget that Brett is a jerk about practically everything, it’s in character for him to be overly opinionated and if he only comes across old badly written code he might hold it against the language.
What’s more, him mentioning Java could also be part of the over explaining he’s doing here rather than a dig at the language to begin with.
They should both probably be capitalized though.
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Also, remember that despite the fact that Brett apparently works in IT he still hasn’t caught on the code that Verona put in his computer to have a bunch of startup sounds happens at regular intervals.
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The two skillsets don’t necessarily overlap. Software engineering is my area of expertise but I still have to reach out for help when, for example, I’m having audio problems with a game I’m playing. But you have a point there.
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It’s hard to understand what Brent does. It’s not IT or his in depth explanation would have touched on things people in IT deal with – making sure the settings are correct on each piece of equipment, and dealing with PEBCAK errors and form ID10-T.
My impression is that his job is to build and maintain business software — the programs that people use to keep track of clients, billing, planning, work schedules, customer support tickets, inventory, and so on.
Of course, like I said this is Wildbow’s world, and maybe this statement is just more sensical there.
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Anyway, not calling it Visual Basic might be intentional on Wildbow’s part since VB is specific to Microsoft. Implying that Microsoft exists would imply that Windows exists, constraining his freedom when writing about computers. By not specifying which BASIC is being complained about here, we can instead assume it’s some Visual Basic equivalent on whatever fictitious OS people happen to be using in this setting without him having to actually spend time going down the worldbuilding rabbit hole and fleshing out a bunch of irrelevant tech details (fun though that may be).
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I think that Brett might be a Cloud Computing engineer, in which case him seeing stand-alone apps written in Java as obsolete makes sense.
I think he may be a more of a sales-y type for software. It makes sense to rip on java if he’s not a programmer and merely hears developers within his company griping about the language. Plus he’d sound much less enthusiastic about it if he were developing business apps. Src: that’s my job and it’s not exciting.
This is more false than you would expect. BASIC was INCREDIBLY widely used — not as much as COBOL, but especially in the scientific community you might be surprised how much serious BASIC code exists out there. Lots of pre-2000 papers (and even some more recent) use BASIC for code examples, because that’s what the researchers were working with.
This is especially true for the late 70’s and the 80’s. For a long time, a computer wasn’t considered complete unless it had a BASIC implementation. It was a common lingua franca for software, because EVERYONE had access to it.
That said, it’s also kind of disturbing how many large-scale management systems are built around heavily scripted spreadsheets and documents, where Visual Basic for Applications was the standard scripting language, so it’s also entirely possible this is what Brett was referring to.
Sure, but he’s not wrong to say that there’s a crapton of terrible legacy Java code that barely gets maintained, and new developers aren’t taking the time to learn it unless they have to.
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The italics make me suspicious that the person using them is getting their words translated or altered in some way. So I wouldn’t rule anyone out on basis of Alpy’s accent or Maricica’s wording.
Though Maricica… she is a fae that trades in faces. I would not be surprised if she didn’t have another identity that she uses in her murder plotting. That would mess with any oaths she might’ve prepared, as it might not be “Maricica” swearing them. One of my guesses was that two people in Kennet are actually the same person, one disguised as another… but I have no idea who it might be.
[Is it bad if I hope this school incident leaves them… less capable of mustering their full strength?]
The one thing I’m fairly sure of is that the goblins aren’t the speaking conspirators. The conspirators are talking as if there’s nothing they can do about the girls while they’re at school, that they can only ‘hope’, while Toadswallow is off busy at the Institute making sure that the girls are still capable of mustering their full strength.
The conspirators do seem to be realizing Miss is getting in their way in quite a few ways…
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I disagree about Matthew and Edith at the end. One of them, sure, but they live together. I think the speakers don’t, and it might even be a telephone call or some magical equivalent. So Matthew or Edith, maybe, and someone else.
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oh Jasmine no
Any of her attempts to advocate for Verona go right up in smoke as she hands Brett the lit match of “fixation on my daughter’s emerging sexuality” to go with his stinky gas can of “parentify my daughter rather than face my fear of abandonment and work on healthy parent-child boundaries.”
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Four adults meeting at a cafe has no business being this suspenseful when there is a friggin’ not-a-siege threatening our protagonists. This was so worth missing a couple Extra Materialses over the holidays. (It’s probably unrelated, but eh.)
Such a casual line, for one which answers one of the story’s driving mysteries.
(I’m still going to call him VD. Anyone else?)
Speaking of VD, it’s remarkable how much of what he says rings differently to people who’ve seen him in private with his daughter. Everything from his description of Lucy as “headstrong” to the way he stubbornly insists on giving his stomach an excessive stress test reflects on the person we the audience know he is, without being obvious to anyone without that context. Say, the other three parents at the table.
Okay, maybe he’s a little obvious to the other three parents. Who I should probably talk about at some point.
Obviously Connor is drawing incorrect conclusions from this train of thought, but I’m not sure it counts as false. I mean, Ms. Hardy’s support for Avery definitely influenced Avery and how Avery feels about her.
Which just means the incorrect conclusions are gonna be that much harder to shake…
I realize Jasmine is Innocent, and that thoughts are allowed to be wrong, but…how severe does an understatement have to be before it counts as a lie?
The insight into Avery’s parents was nice, as was getting to see the parents as people instead of just how they intersect with their kids’ lives. (VD still fits that name better than Brett, albeit mostly because he keeps strengthening our earlier impression of him.) And that conversation at the end…well.
Yeah. He can have his regular human name when he earns it.
Oh yeah definitely
I know we’re talking about a fictional character, so there aren’t any real stakes here, but… I really don’t like this way of thinking about people. What does it cost us to treat others with dignity and compassion, even when they’ve done wrong? What do we really gain by dehumanizing a man like this, awful and abusive though he may be?
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It is an undeserved concession. Those who would take advantage of niceties and have a record of abusing it to the detriment of others can eat rocks.
I’m tired of things being wrong and pretending it isn’t.
I’m with Theodore; even when talking about a fictional character that’s not a healthy habit.
The world is full of abusive assholes; to pretend they’re some kind of different species and deny them basic human dignity like their chosen names feels like an intellectual trap. No matter how much cause I have to despise them, at the end of the day it’s still training myself to be ok with splitting the species into two groups and denying my out-group their chosen names.
Human brains are already too good at that; it doesn’t seem like a good idea to encourage mine.
Brett’s am asshole, not an alien abstract concept. I can call him Brett and still want to punch his self-involved face. I won’t establish a category of humans that doesn’t deserve basic dignity for any reason whatsoever… because I know damn well how many people out there have already happily put me on the list of disposable people who don’t matter, long before they hear my name.
I don’t see a difference between insulting him by calling him VD and insulting him by calling him an asshole, and calling him names is less bad than expressing a desire to do violence to him. I am not pretending he’s a different species, and if you think that calling an abusive asshole names is a violation of basic human dignity then we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Not-being-insulted is a privilege, not some inalienable right.
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I think the boundary between your two stances lies in the difference between names and epithets.
VD is not a name; it is an epithet. Epithets work like names, in that they’re used to refer to someone, but they do so by highlighting a characteristic and then using that to refer to the whole person. Manipulating someone’s name to include an insult, such as referring to someone named Winston as “Weirdston”, is still an epithet, just a more personalized one. This is what Pizzasgood is referring to.
But intentionally and willfully using the wrong name for someone is different than using an epithet. The most significant example in Pale that would be relevant to the distinction would be to knowingly refer to Zed as Zoe. That isn’t just a slur; that is a denial of the individual’s very identity. This is the kind of situation where tynam’s stance comes into play most strongly.
Of course, there are cases where epithets can be on the same level of badness as a deadnaming, and that is when the epithet is insufficiently specific to the individual but is derogatory to a group of people that happens to include the individual. Racial slurs fall into this category, and modern society doesn’t consider it acceptable to use a racial slur to refer to someone even if there’s good reason to be derogatory towards that PERSON, because the term expresses derogatory sentiment to far more than just the one individual. This is consistent with tynam’s concern, but I think that tynam’s stance is overly strict to extend this to a general prohibition against epithets.
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I disagree. Cases where intentionally using the wrong name is problematic are exceptions and they follow the same reasoning that separates slurs from acceptable insults: when the person in question is part of a group that has been routinely marginalized through the weaponization of wrong-naming, using the wrong name for them is off limits. Everybody else is fair game for name-based shenanigans.
That’s a reasonable, balanced opinion, and one I don’t have any ethical complaints about. I’m a little bit hesitant to embrace it wholly, as I don’t want to be the outsider making the call about which groups are or are not entitled to that privilege; I find it easier to describe and easier to be consistent about to draw the line in a less ambiguous place. But I won’t oppose your stance there.
Before responding to everyone, can I just say: yay, complex, nuanced and respectful debate, with agreement to disagree where necessary. I love this community.
I think we’re on broadly similar ground here, so I’ll just make some specific clarifications about what I was trying to convey:
I agree. I don’t think calling him “VD” is meaningfully different to calling him “asshole”. (And you’re right about the names vs violence thing too.) I don’t object to either, in this case.
There is, however, a difference between calling him an epithet and exclusively calling him an epithet, expressing the opinion that the right to his name had to be ‘earned’. It was specifically that idea that I was pushing back against – because suggesting that your own name can be denied until someone else decides you’ve earned it is a problem for me.
The reason why I think so is simple, and Coda’s comments get to the heart of it quite rapidly (and far more eloquently and precisely than I did):
Still with you on this. My concern, if I try to make it as precisely specified as Coda did, is this: by establishing that ‘deny the chosen name’ is an acceptable move at any time, we’re weakening our defences against malicious actors.
Everything Coda says is correct – but we know society contains people who simply do not care about the distinction between insult and denial-of-identity that Coda correctly draws. Since deadnaming is such a common denial-of-identity attack, and is an issue we’re specifically fighting right now… I’d rather have a slightly overbroad social norm that avoids things that even look like it, because ‘use someone’s preferred name to refer to them’ is an enforceable general standard, whereas ‘use someone’s preferred name to refer to them unless they’re being a dick so you replace it with your epithet of choice at all times’ provides a lot of shadowy ground for unpleasantness to hide.
If I need the epithet, there’s still plenty of room to intermingle “that abusive asshole VD” and “Brett Hayward, Kennet’s most irritating self-involved prat” without confusion. I’m not objecting to the epithets, only to the assertion that his name shouldn’t be used at all until ‘earned’.
So here’s a bit of an out there thought- could the time that the Doom has spent in Mathew affected it on a fundamental level? Could it be working with Edith as an attempt to escape its original nature? That conversation at the end… it almost feels like someone talking to themselves… and the Doom was originally connected to her before being sealed…
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Honestly, I can believe Mr. Haywood is that oblivious to his own shortcomings… Also, I feel a bit uncomfortable with his name since the closest person I currently have to a best friend in real life is also named Brett.
Could be worse- you could have the name Emma in a community that started with Worm 😛
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Ack so so many bad vibes from Brett.
Also Jasmine is just fantastic.
And finally, we finally get a bit of juicy dialogue about the Carmine plot… For the record, I don’t get the feel that both Matthew and Edith are in on the plot. Italics is clearly an Other if they are planning on taking the seat but I’m less sure about the second conversant. Whoever they are they seem to have good (if probably misguided) intentions for Kennet. I’m wondering what about this situation would be likely to set a precedent the way Miss was thinking. Maybe the conspirators struck some kind of a deal with ourside forces to secure a particular kind of future for Kennet and how it relates to human Practitioners?
Much as I hesitate to say this, Verona’s dad gets points for actually showing up to this meeting. I would have bet non-negligible amounts of money that he wouldn’t give enough of a shit.
I commented on a much earlier chapter that Verona’s Dad isn’t worth redeeming. I find that to be less the case now, not so much because I have more hope for Mr Hayward, but because it would matter a lot to Verona. That said, I don’t see any form of redemption from him being adequate without a full realization of remorse, ideally reached by himself, and then applying that lesson by putting Verona’s needs above his own.
Mr Hayward really just needs to talk to other adults, huh? We knew this since chapter 1 but still. He really needs this. We were all saying he needs therapy (which, yes for everyone), but simply making him talk about his daughter in front of other parents has had a shocking effectiveness in making him actually think about his parenting. At least, from the looks of it.
Hot damn, them’s some juicy mystery clues!
I really really want to read the conversation as Matthew and Edith, but it’s juuust not quite clicking. So frustrating! The same person who’ll don the furs is insistent on minimizing harm done, it seems. Hmmmmm….. The same speaker says “the rest of us” immediately after listing Kennet..?? Are they not a Kennet Other….? -confusion & concern- I was assuming fur-donner must be the mastermind, which is confirmed not an outsider by Miss- wait that could have literally just meant the Hungry Choir, fuck. Nothing is for certain anymore! Aunt Heather killed the Carmine Beast!
Anyway, I presume the last line is in reference to Bristow or Alex winning their confrontation. So these Others are aware of what’s happening at the school? Does this mean they’ve been spying on the girls too? Gotta go reread their phone-call with Matthew.