Sunday, September 27th [Last day of the Festival of Nations], around 10AM
It had been a busy couple of days for Elise; the student council had the festival committee to help, but in the end a lot of the work fell on the core and class officers. She had wanted more time to check things out, especially this year when she finally had a little spending money, but she was enjoying herself, nonetheless.
She had not yet had a chance to check out the class’s “movie café,” and had volunteered for a shift to have an excuse to see it, and to help out at least a little – given her student council responsibilities, she hadn’t done anything to help set up.
Arriving a little before ten, there were a few students lazing around watching a film; Elise didn’t recognize it, but it was a period piece and looked like a romance. The only one tending to the booth was Zaya, who gave her a friendly smile, and said, “Hi Elise!”
“Hi Zaya! You’ve had the place to yourself this morning?”
Zaya nodded. “It’s pretty easy.” Zaya went on to show her the price list, and the instruction sheets for the coffee maker and the popcorn machine. There was also a box of rented movies – “This one has about 45 minutes to go so one of you will need to put on the next one.”
“Someone else is going to be here?”
“Yes, we had two signups for this shift. You, and Joel.”
“He’s one of the new transfer students, right?”
Before Zaya could respond, a male voice came from behind Elise. “Yeah, that’s me.”
Once she turned, she recognized him; he was the taller of the two who were new this year, and often hanging out with Jack and Kai. She’d met the other, Mark, very briefly, at the American booth yesterday. She figured that meant Joel was also American – up until yesterday she’d assumed both been local and had just transferred in from other schools.
“Joel did a shift yesterday,” said Zaya, “so if you need anything he should know where things are.”
“Thanks,” said Elise, and Zaya said her goodbyes for the next couple of hours.
Joel sat down on one of the chairs at the sales table, and Elise took the other. A slightly awkward silence settled in Elise tried to figure out what was going on in the movie – no one was buying anything, so there wasn’t really anything else to do.
“Do you know what this film is?” asked Joel.
Elise looked down at the box of tapes; the box on top looked like it could be a match for the lead actress… maybe? She picked the box up, and it was empty – I guess that was it? “The Duchess’s Choice,” said Elise. Looking at the back of the box, she signed, and offered the box to Joel. “It seems like a very predictable romance. Want to have a look?”
“Sure,” he said, accepting the box. After reading a bit, he handed it back. “A young officer and the heiress to a duchy, defying her family and the forces of convention? Sounds like something straight out of Jane Austen,” and then after a moment, “umm… do they have her books here?”
“I haven’t a heard of her,” she replied. Then after a moment, she asked, “What do you mean by ‘here?’” She was pretty sure she knew the answer but figured it would be better to ask.
Joel gave an embarrassed grin. “Sorry… I forgot to introduce myself. I’m from America. Jane Austen was a classic author over there. We had to read one of her books in English class, it was kind of like this.”
Elise tried to avoid looking smug about having made the right assumption. “So, both you and Mark really are from the other side of the gate?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess you met him yesterday at the booth?”
“I saw him there. I’m not sure I really met him.” She shrugged. “He’s pretty quiet.”
“At least until he gets to know people.” It looked like he wanted to say more but didn’t continue.
“How did you end up coming to school here?”
“It’s kind of a long story,” and he paused for a moment. Elise didn’t reply, and he went on, “My school got approached by our State Department – kind of like the Foreign Ministry here, and I got offered the chance to come. Mark heard about it, and decided he wanted to come along, and he nagged the state department folks to let him take the test.”
That seems a bit odd, thought Elise. I’d like to ask how he was selected individually, but would that be too nosy? Instead, she replied, “It’s pretty unusual to have foreign students come in on scholarship. I’d though the two of you were local until yesterday.”
“This is my first time going to a private school, so I wouldn’t know.”
“How do you like it here so far?”
Joel and Elise talked for a little while about the school; it sounded like he was enjoying it here, and school back in America sounded quite different. A lull in the conversation followed, and both watched the movie quietly. Elise thought she should ask more about America but was unsure how to do so without coming across as nosy.
After a particularly melodramatic scene where the romantic rival tried to blackmail the protagonist into marrying an elderly relative, Joel said quietly, “OK, not that much like Jane Austen.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, but this is pretty terrible, isn’t it?” replied Else.
Joel laughed. “Yeah, it’s bad. Those girls seem really into it, though. I think they’re going to sit through to the end.”
Elise smiled at his reaction. “Probably! I wish they’d buy something. Still, this was a good idea for our class, it’s easy to run and it seems like people are having fun. Do you know who suggested it?”
Joel gulped. “I suggested a movie theater, and then someone suggested combining it with the café.” Joel went on to explain the reasoning – that with just the theater, people wouldn’t be likely to pay to sit through a whole movie, but it was a draw when combined with the snack bar.
“Did they have anything like this at your old school?”
“Kind of. One of my friends started a club where they borrow a VCR and just watch part of a movie once a week during the lunch break.”
Else had meant like the festival, but it didn’t seem right to bring it up. “Do the clubs at your old school not meet after school?”
“Except for the sports teams, I think they all meet at lunch time. Are you in any clubs, other than the student council?”
“No, I work after school, it’s hard enough to make time for student council.”
“That sounds like a lot of responsibility for someone our age,” said Joel.
Elise sighed. “It is, but I have to help my family out.”
“It’s really cool how dedicated you are to do that for your family,” said Joel.
Elise looked down with a bit of embarrassment. Joel seems really thoughtful, so many of the better off students look down on my working. “Thanks,” she said quietly.
An awkward silence followed, and they both watched the last few minutes of the movie. The hero and heroine eloped and were implausibly forgiven by her father. Surprisingly, the romantic rival was left as a loose end – after the blackmail plot, Elise had fully expected her to get some kind of comeuppance.
The girls who had been watching looked disappointed, and one of them came up to ask if they had the sequel. After looking in the box of rentals, Elise shook her head. She didn’t see much that she recognized – not that she had a lot of time to watch movies – and asked Joel, “Do you know what we’re supposed to put on next?”
Joel found a list on the box of movies, but it wasn’t a schedule – just the list of movies, with the ones having been put on already crossed off. “There’s an interesting title – Wings of Freedom – I don’t remember this from when we picked out films,” he said, pulling out the box. “Looks like a war film, what do you think?”
“That’s a classic,” said Elise. “Back in the lower school, we had to watch it for class – it’s about the Wizards’ War. There’s a bit of a tragic romance, so the girls might like it.”
She brought the box over to them, and sure enough, they wanted to see it, so she put it on – and suggested they should buy some popcorn or coffee. One of the girls followed her up and bought some imported candy to share with her friends. “This is the same candy your booth was selling?” asked Elise.
“Yes,” said Joel. “Well, one of them, it looks like the rest sold out.”
“I bought some at the booth yesterday, these are delicious. How did our class end up selling these?”
“Our state department sent a bunch of candy – and a bunch of other junk – to Mark, and he donated some of the candy to the class.”
This, she thought, is a good opportunity to learn more. “They used the gate to send candy through?” It seems to use transportation between worlds to bring something so trivial through.
“Mr. Hull – the representative our government sent here – wants us to share out American culture and it didn’t seem like a big deal.”
“Interesting,” said Elise, and then after a moment, “Your friend Mark also said yesterday I should ask Mr. Hull if I had questions about trade through the gate.”
“You really should. About all the guy talks about is wanting to improve ties between Feldaren and our country.”
That’s odd – didn’t Brinna say they’d talked to him already? I don’t know what I could ask him that they couldn’t, but it can’t hurt to talk to him, “He was going to be back this afternoon?”
“I think so.” Joel paused a moment, and then smiled. “Hey, when we get out of the shift here, do you want to come along with me to the booth to check if Hull is there?”
“I guess so,” said Elise. I could find the way myself, she thought, but it is sweet of him to offer.
The movie was less than halfway through at noon when another girl from their class came to take her shift at the classroom both, and Elise and Joel walked down to the green together to find Hull. As they approached the corner where the American booth was, however, they were stopped as a loud crowd was packed around the booth.
“What the heck is going on here?” asked Joel, his eyes gone very wide. Looking at the crowd, Elise was just as surprised. What had they done at the booth that morning?