Goynee dropped Ellie-as-Shree off at the front of Jorseen’s house, wished her luck, then drove away. She sighed, resigned, and entered the house.

Jorseen looked up from the book he was reading, took in her despondent face, and rose to grab her arm and lead her to a chair. “Shree, what is it? Has something happened? I thought you were supposed to stay the night with Ellie. Are you ill?”

“No, no! I messed up. I got into a fight with Madame Ambassador, and I’m no longer welcome there.” She knew her voice sounded more miserable than a visiting HuFleet ensign’s should, but she couldn’t help it. It felt like her own mother had thrown her out.

“How did you manage that?” Jorseen asked, his voice neutral.

“Defending myself. Ellie. Both of us, I guess. What a disaster. I’m supposed to be there for her tonight! What?”

He was regarding her with a warm, affectionate smile. “You have such empathy.”

She snorted. “Tell that to my mother. But Jorseen, I’m worried. She protests that she doesn’t care, but I’m afraid she’s going to try to crash that ball…”

“Crash? As in, with the car?”

“No, no. Human slang. It means to attend uninvited. You didn’t see how those girls treated her in the park, and then everyone telling her she’s ‘too young.’ She may go just to prove she can.”

“And how would you know this?”

“I used to be her.” Somehow, she managed to say it without the least bit of irony.

He stood. “I think you are worrying too much, but I shall contact her parents and seek reassurances if it will make you relax.”

Ellie shook her head. “Talk to her directly. Maybe that will help me.”

He went into the kitchen and picked up his phone, which like “cars” is a handy way to say two-way vocal communications, and called the Ambassadors. After some reassurances to Madame Ambassador that he was not, in fact, taking anyone’s side but simply ensuring that Ellie and the Ball were safe, he was connected to Ellie. All Ellie-as-Shree heard were the standard phone fare of “uh-huh,” “I see,” and “I’m glad to hear that” but he was smiling when he ended the call (a.k.a hung up.) 

He returned with two cups of steaming tea, which, like “cars” and “phone”… You get the picture. 

“I have had her reassurance that she was going to—quote—spend the night sulking and playing my music too loud to tick off my parents. She also agreed to call me before she went to sleep. Does that satisfy you?”

He handed her one steaming cup. Their fingers touched, sending a delightful shiver along her skin. “It does. Thank you.”

She could see in his expression that he’d felt it, too, but he sat back in his own chair. “So, it seems we have a few hours to kill. Do you want to tell me about this argument?”

She shook her head and sipped the warm liquid. “It was a lot of personal information. It wouldn’t be right.”

“What shall we talk about?”

The corset was starting to dig into her, and all the fabric of the skirts was making her too warm. Knowing it was a dangerous question, she said, “Tell me what you love about Chatway. But first, is there something more comfortable I could wear?”