Grantville, August 1634

Velma Hardesty took a good look at herself in the mirror.

Jacques-Pierre Dumais came to the trailer and talked to her for an hour or two at least three or four times a week and gave her ideas on which she was to Meditate. She smiled at her reflection, a little sourly. She bet there wasn't a single soul in Grantville who would believe that he only offered her Spiritual Comfort. She scarcely believed it herself.

She used to read a lot about Spiritual Enlightenment. After all, the astrology magazines at the grocery stores, up-time, before the Ring of Fire, were really into it. She hadn't really believed that it worked, though. But three months of receiving regular Spiritual Comfort from Jacques-Pierre had done wonders. She had to admit it. Having someone who listened to her—really listened—had made so much difference.

Although she didn't like to admit it, even to herself, his stern admonitions that slurping down your wine like it was water did not give you an opportunity to appreciate the bouquet properly had done wonders, too. Jacques-Pierre's father owned a vineyard in Languedoc. He absolutely forbade her to drink anything stronger than wine. It interfered with Spiritual Enlightenment, he said, not to mention having a destructive impact on the palate. So she sipped rather than slurped (well, most of the time).

And tried to Meditate, just as he said. For each of the Themes he gave her, she was to walk around town every day until she had spoken to at least four people with whom she could share Words of Enlightened Wisdom. She was supposed to share each Theme with four different people. She didn't bother with that, though. Whenever she had a new one, she shared it with the receptionist at the Probate Court and the receptionist in Judge Maurice Tito's office, since she would be talking to them about money and custody of Susan anyway, dropping off papers and things like that.

She sort of wished that Jacques-Pierre would get on the stick about helping her with Susan and the money. She'd have to remind him. Though, to be honest, now that she wasn't thinking as woozily as she had been last month, there might not be much that he could do. Garbage collector just wasn't the most influential job in town. It was nice of him to have offered, though.

But she had to do extra walking to find enough people to share the rest of the Themes. By now, she knew almost every place in town where she could be sure of finding a captive audience. Checkout line at the grocery store. Circulation desk at the public library. She figured that even if she just said it to the person behind the counter, she had shared it with everyone in line. That saved a lot of walking, but even so, she'd lost eight pounds.

She looked back at the mirror. None of it from the boobs, she noted with satisfaction. Those had been a worthwhile investment.

****

A couple of weeks later, their Spiritual Comfort session was accompanied by a good-sized glass of the best French wine, newly delivered from a friend of Jacques-Pierre's, a guy named Laurent Mauger. Jacques-Pierre told her that the man went as a Dutch merchant from Haarlem, which he was. But his grandparents had been Huguenots from Dieppe.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff