The Patel residence

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

January, 1999

 

“If Miami is out, what about Atlanta? Or Dallas?” Sumitra Patel asked in Gujarati.

Bhaskar Patel shook his head. “We don’t even need to check our computer. Thar Textiles doesn’t pay me enough to send you to either place.”

Sumitra’s mother Ahimsa said, “Dear, are you sure about Britain? Because scholarships—”

“No!” Sumitra’s father yelled. “The English have humiliated India enough. I’ll sleep in cow dung before I make my daughter ask any Englishman for charity.”

“I agree, Mother,” Sumitra said. “I really do not wish to listen to”—Sumitra deepened her voice as she switched to English—”‘You people would be so much better off if India were still part of the Empire. Now girl, bring me my tea, and be quick about it!'”

Ahimsa’s grandparents had demonstrated against the British alongside Mohandas Gandhi; this surely explained why Ahimsa said nothing more to push for England. Instead, Sumitra’s mother sighed. “So we’re back to the USA. What about Minneapolis?”

After Bhaskar found Minneapolis on the map, he said, “Too cold. Which means, too expensive.”

Sumitra put her hand out. “Father, would you please give me a hundred rupees or so? I want to stop at a cybercafe after school tomorrow, to find out what the internet can tell me about different American cities.”

Respect for her father’s pride kept Sumitra from mentioning that the family computer with its later-bought, secondhand modem, a computer already old when Bhaskar bought it from Thar Textiles, was unsuited for any big internet-search project.

Meanwhile, as Bhaskar was digging through his pocket, Sumitra looked at her mother. “Many people want to be accepted to an American university, so that four years later they can come back to India as rajahs. But I figure it’s easier to get into an American university when I already go to an American high school. I feel so honored that you two agree to sacrifice even more, so I can gamble by going to America a year early.”

Bhaskar beamed, as he handed over the hundred rupees. “My daughter, the daring gambler.”

Ahimsa also smiled. “Certainly an American university degree will help your marriage prospects.”

Sumitra shrugged, not wanting to hurt her mother’s feelings. But Sumitra wasn’t much interested in marriage, beyond hoping that her future husband wouldn’t abuse her.

A week later, Sumitra was discouraged again. Even Lubbock, Texas and Topeka, Kansas had proven to be too expensive for her to live in for nine months.

Ahmedabad Airport

August 7, 1999

 

Sumitra was leaving home to become a high-school senior in a tiny town in the USA. Her destination was a mystery; the only info that the internet could dig out about Grantville, West Virginia was that its high school was adequate and its cost of living was cheap. Which, she supposed, was all she needed to know.

Now Sumitra’s flight was being called. The family was so emotional, they actually hugged in public.

The second-to-last thing that Bhaskar said to his daughter was “Don’t eat meat over there.”

“We know you won’t,” Ahimsa said. “You’re a good daughter.”

Sumitra wasn’t paying total attention. Part of her was noticing what soft skin one of the Air India stewardesses had.

The home of George and Hilary Chehab

Grantville, West Virginia

September 24, 1999

 

Mrs. Chehab was serving her own family a casserole of broccoli, cheese, and chicken. Sumitra was eating rice and broccoli topped with cottage cheese.

Sumitra didn’t eat any of Hilary Chehab’s chicken casserole, nor did she ask for any of it. But after hearing the third “This is delicious, Mom,” Sumitra was sorely tempted to try it.

Sumitra distracted herself away from the chicken by thinking about her new close friend, Samantha Salerno.

“You’re smiling, Sumitra,” Terri Chehab said. “Are you thinking about a boy?”

McDonald’s Restaurant

Grantville, West Virginia

Six weeks before graduation

 

 

Enterprise “Ent” Martin and his brother “Dev” were sitting at a table by a big glass window of the McDonald’s. Ent gave Sumitra a smile and a jaunty wave.

Then he yawned.

Grantville High School had held its 2000 “Foolish Youth” Prom the night before. Sumitra Patel was the only senior, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, to be sober, hangover-free, and well rested.

Sitting across a tiny table from Sumitra in the McDonald’s, sophomore Samantha Salerno had seen Ent Martin’s smile and wave. Samantha leaned forward. “You know Ent won’t shut up about your great hair, and he thinks your accent is sexy. You should date him before you go back to India.”

Sumitra smiled. “To India? I hope this is not soon. I hope I win the scholarship for the Georgia Tech. Also, I have not heard yet from the WVU or the California State or the Harvard. Perhaps I will date the Harvard man.”

The Grantville girl’s smile said Checkmate in one move. “Then you need to date Ent now, so that you know the game when you date that Harvard man.” When Sumitra still hesitated, Samantha threw up her hands. “C’mon, you need this!”

Sumitra smiled at her American friend. “Perhaps Ent fancies me. But I am not whom he took to the prom, no?”

Samantha looked embarrassed. “Look, we Grantville kids all have grown up together, and we’ll be seeing each other in years to come. This is why no boy asked—”

Sumitra smiled. “You are most kind. The prom is not part of my custom, so I did not cry when I did not go to the prom. I was more gutted, missing the Navratri, than I was about missing the prom. But too bad for Grantville. You lot gave a miss to see a chaniya choli costume at the prom.”

Sumitra didn’t mention now that she had another reason that she was unbothered about missing prom. Two months ago, Sumitra had realized that she’d rather go to the prom with Samantha than with any boy. Sumitra had no idea how Samantha would take such news, so she had kept her desires hidden.

Meanwhile, Samantha was changing topics: “One day you’ll be back in India. You think you’ll ever miss here? Grantville? West Virginia? The USA?”

Sumitra shrugged. “I have not seen the USA. I have not seen the West Virginia. The Marion County—what I saw of this—is different from Gujarat. You have the rain here! Gujarat is dry.” Then Sumitra rubbed her elbow. “You also have the ice and snow in winter, and they attack the innocent India girl. I shan’t miss the ice and snow.”

Sumitra added with what she hoped was a casual voice: “I will miss you. You have been the good friend, Samantha.”

“Aww,” the Grantville girl said, and touched Sumitra’s left hand with her own right hand.

Samantha’s hand was soft, and her skin smelled wonderful. Sumitra wanted to step around the table right then, and kiss Samantha’s soft lips. Then Sumitra would unbutton Samantha’s clothing, in order to smell and kiss more and more of Samantha’s sweet-scented skin, eventually to—

In McDonald’s, Samantha drew her hand back, picked up her hamburger, and took another bite.

As Samantha was chewing her beef sandwich, Sumitra said, “About I go back to India . . . um, I have the favour to ask.” Sumitra eyed the hamburger in Samantha’s hands and added, “Please, do not tell this to anyone.”

Puzzled, Samantha asked, “What’s the favor?”

Sumitra said, “You give to me some of your hamburger. I eat the ground beef.”

“What’s wrong, the salad didn’t fill you up?” Then clearly realisation hit Samantha. “Wait, you’re Hindu. You’re supposed to avoid beef, right?”

“Yes,” Sumitra admitted. “So please, do not tell to anyone. In India I do not find the beef, or this is the scandal if I eat this. Here, I have no scandal. But still, say nothing.”

In reply, Samantha picked up her purse, then stood up. “Gosh, I’m still hungry. I’m going to order me another burger.”

“Wait,” Sumitra said, “I do not ask for you to spend your—”

Samantha was standing at the order counter by then, so Sumitra’s choices were to yell or to shut up. Sumitra shut up.

A minute later, Samantha lifted the hot, paper-wrapped hamburger off its red plastic tray, and set the hamburger in front of Sumitra. The Grantville girl leaned down and murmured in the Hindu girl’s ear, “The cow was already dead. You didn’t kill it. Now eat up.”

Sumitra had eaten about a third of her hamburger when the light from the windows suddenly flashed much brighter.

Ent Martin exclaimed, “Holy shit!”

An instant later, the entire McDonald’s went dark. Somebody in the food-preparation area said “Dammit!”

Seconds later, thunder-sound came, which echoed for several more seconds.

Meanwhile, Ent Martin was saying, “Y’all should’ve seen it. The whole sky turned bright white for a moment.”

“You’re pathetic,” Samantha said. “Ever heard of lightning?”

“Come over here and see for yourself, Miss Smartypants,” Dev Martin said. “The sky is blue everywhere you look.”

Ent added, “It wasn’t part of the sky that flashed light, it was the entire sky. Weird.”

“Maybe somebody dropped a nuke someplace?” Dev said. Sumitra was surprised to hear eagerness, not worry, in his voice.

Ent stood up, as he glanced at Sumitra. “If somebody did drop a nuke, we should go look for a mushroom cloud. Find out if people in Grantville are in danger.”

Samantha stood up too. “If there’s been a nuke, Grantville will get refugees soon, and our doctors are gonna need help.”

Sumitra put the remainder of her hamburger on the table, then followed Samantha and the boys outside.

The Martin brothers had denied that a thundercloud had made the flash. Sure enough, the only clouds above the teens’ heads were standard white puffs, with lots of blue sky showing. In fact, the sky was a darker and richer blue than Sumitra had ever noticed before.

“I don’t see any mushroom cloud,” Dev said. Was this disappointment that Sumitra was hearing?

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Ent said. “They’d have to hit Fairmont for us to see the mushroom cloud over the tops of these hills.”

“Okay, so maybe it was a glitch at the power plant. Maybe somebody threw a bucket of water on one of the generators.”

“Maybe it was a storm,” Ent said. “Notice how it’s windy out here and it’s getting cooler?”

“Huh, you’re right,” Dev said. “I’m going inside.”

Meanwhile, Sumitra noticed that Samantha was standing in the car park, facing the sun.

Instead of following his brother inside, Ent looked at Sumitra. She smiled at him and gave him a little goodbye-wave. Ent shrugged, then walked toward the McDonald’s entrance door.

Sumitra walked up, to stand only inches away from Samantha. The younger girl looked puzzled by something. Sumitra asked, “What are you doing?”

“Being young and silly, probably. Besides proving I’m no astronomer.”

Sumitra glanced at the sun then, and realized that she’d never noticed it in that part of the sky before. But then, Sumitra had lived in Grantville for only eight months, so she promptly dismissed the thought.

Sumitra looked around. Nobody inside McDonald’s could see Samantha and Sumitra, because of where the two girls were standing. Nobody outside was looking at the two girls. Nobody was near the two girls, except for the McDonald’s manager; he was taping a sign to the drive-through menu. To add to temptation, Samantha’s hair smelled quite nice. Sumitra thought, I could kiss Samantha right now, and nobody would see.

Sumitra would never know if this thought were true or not. The “daring gambler” didn’t try to kiss Samantha.

For the rest of her life, Sumitra Patel would be asked about that one special second, and the minutes before and after it. Only Stephanie Turski and Nicki Jo Prickett got told the whole truth:

When the Ring fell, Sumitra Patel, a Hindu, was chewing on grilled ground beef. In the minutes before and after, Sumitra was wishing to kiss her best friend Samantha.

Stephanie’s art classroom, Grantville High School

Right after Final Bell, Monday, September 8, 1636

 

Art teacher Stephanie Turski was at the classroom deep sink, washing out mixing bowls for paint, when she heard someone knock on the doorframe of her open classroom door.

She glanced over. Standing just inside the door was playwright and GHS drama teacher Shack (Shackerley) Marmion, and another down-timer man. Shack was holding a piece of paper in one hand, while the other man was holding two rolled-up cloths. The other man was in his thirties, and expensively dressed; he was looking at Stephanie with skepticism.

“I bid you good day, good lady Stephanie,” Shack said. “Are you free to converse?”

Stephanie blinked. Shackerley, she had noticed, addressed up-timers as “good lady X” or “good lord Y” only when he was being formal.

She replied in kind: “Welcome to my classroom, sirs. Please make yourselves comfortable while I finish my business.”

The well-dressed stranger murmured a question to Shackerley, who murmured a reply. Stephanie couldn’t hear what either man said.

Stephanie finished cleaning the mixing bowls, then washed blue and green paint off her hands. Wiping her hands on a rectangle of hemp, she walked toward the men.

Shackerley said with careful diction, “Stephanie Turski, may I present Cecilio Moretti of Venice. Cecilio, this be Stephanie Turski, unmarried but she doth keep her married name. Cecilio doth journey hither to trade with a certain manner of up-timer, and he doth hope that his search be not in vain.”

The Venetian bowed to Stephanie, though his face still showed doubts about her. “Well met, Miss Turski,” he said.

Stephanie asked Shackerley, “So what is this about?”

Before Shack answered, Moretti asked Stephanie, “Pray pardon, but you do lecture here at this school, Miss Turski? What be thy—your specialty?”

“I teach art and art history, Signor Moretti. Can’t you tell?” Stephanie replied, smiling. The walls of the art classroom were a feast of colors, especially the giant hot-pink heart by the door.

“Wherefore she?” Moretti asked Shackerley, doubt clear in his voice.

“Mister Marmion, what’s going on?” Stephanie demanded, her voice no longer cheery.

Shackerley said, “This doth tell all.” He thrust toward Stephanie the paper he’d been holding.

The paper turned out to be a letter, complete with a red wax seal—

God grant thee good day, old friend Shackerley!

Courtesy doth compel me to salute thee. Months after thou didst leave London, everyone doth still speak of you. Is’t true, thou didst flee in darkness to evade creditors? Forsooth, as I have with mine own eyes seen thy love for cards, I do easily credit this rumour. Rumour doth also claim that thou doth abide in the town of the future, and moreunto thou wast invited to lecture at their school. I am privileged to long ago have drunk ale with such a worthy.

If this second rumour be true, I have a tale to tell, and a boon to beg.

After my elder brother died and I did with tears cease my studies at Wadham College, I came home and learnt the wool trade from my father. My father himself did die in 1631, and so I did take ownership of his company.

Soon after, we of England did hear rumour of an English-speaking town from North America of the future, whose people did boast to be Englishmen no more. In 1631 I thought the tale to be the lie of a madman or an idiot. But alas, I was shewed wrong, for no Englishman may deny what did betide English soldiers and sailors in 1634.

About this time of 1634, one of my partners in trade, Cecilio Moretti who standeth afore thee, did learn a rumour that a Spanish Don had aped up-time knowledge, in the making of better woolen cloth. This tale did inflame Cecilio, who doth loathe all men of Spain. Cecilio then did vow to match the hidalgo in wool wizardry, and then to better him.

Shackerley, Cecilio hath done this. Now in 1636, I sell wool to him, and he doth sell to me wool cloth finer than any English wife can make. I sell this wool cloth in England, and God’s wounds, I do prosper! This man who beareth my letter, he doth make me rich!

Recently Cecilio wrote to me to share tidings: What he hath done with wool, so now doeth he with India cotton. Work with India cotton is i’truth easier, he claimeth.

He maketh cotton cloth, and doth wish to sell it. But he seeketh to sell his cotton cloth first to the up-timers, afore he doth make trade to anyone else. I forstand not his reasoning, in that he doth wish his cotton cloth to be like unto a Turkish drink. Mayhap he will explain it well to thee.

Cecilio maketh request to me, to introduce him to an up-timer who would buy his cotton cloth. I know no man as this. But I know thee, and so I pray thee to aid Cecilio in his quest.

For thine aid to Cecilio, I thank thee aforetime.

Yr. humble servant,

Roger Wyndford

Stephanie handed the letter back to Shackerley. To Moretti she said, “You say that cotton cloth is like coffee? How are they alike?”

Moretti glanced at Shackerley. Shackerley made a small hand gesture: Get on with it.

Moretti said to Stephanie, “The people in Europe did not drink the coffee, ere you up-timers came. Now, to drink the brown water be high fashion in every place. Now, north of yon Mediterranean Sea, I am told, ‘Cotton? Fie on cotton! Its price be dear, and it doth keep not me warm.’ Ah, but if you up-timers buy my wares—”

“—you’ll get rich, fast. Gotcha.”

“She forstandeth,” Shackerley translated.

Cecilio frowned. “I wish not to seem as an unmannered lout, but . . . you did ask, and I did answer. Now ’tis my time to ask: Wherefore was I brought hither, to you? How canst thou—can you aid me?”

Shackerley said, “In that she doth—”

Stephanie held up a hand. “Shackerley, allow me.”

Stephanie turned to Cecilio; her face, which smiled often, wasn’t smiling now. “You have heard of the Higgins sewing machine.” He nodded. “I am in partnership with another woman, a tailor’s widow named Tilda Gundlach, and together we sew skorts and skirts. Do you know what a skort is?”

He said no; she explained. It turned out that he’d seen skorts in Venice, but hadn’t paid attention to what they were named.

Then Cecilio shrugged. “So you two do sew clothing for women. And so? Without vexing myself, I can find three other seamstresses who do likewise, in Grantville alone. Wherefore thou?”

“We aren’t seamstresses. A seamstress is told what the skirt must look like, then she measures the woman and makes a skirt for that one woman.”

“Yes. And so?”

“What Tilda and I do is, we design a skirt or skort in one of twenty-nine different sizes, a woman gets measured, she figures out her size from a chart, she tells us her size and which of six colors she wants, she pays us, and we send her a skirt in that color and it already fits. When we run low on a size/color combination, we make more.”

Stephanie turned to smile at Shackerley, adding, “We now have two skirts in the Wish Book: The ‘Magdeburg’ and the ‘Morgantown.’ The ‘Morgantown’ stops just above the knee, and is selling very well. We think down-timer women are buying it as lingerie.”

Stephanie noticed that Cecilio looked puzzled. She asked him, “Have you heard of the Wish Book?”

Cecilio hadn’t, because with Venice’s down-time mail system, a mail-order catalogue would be a bad idea. Cecilio had heard of the USE’s mail system, but hadn’t realized that someone could build a business from it.

Cecilio asked, “Ye women make garments when no woman hath paid, hoping for her custom afterwards? Nay, nay, ’tis perilous and foolish.”

Stephanie laughed at him, then said, “You of Venice build a cotton mill when no one has paid, hoping to get up-timers’ business afterward? Perilous, definitely. But what do you say, is it foolish?”

Cecilio stared at her, as gobsmacked as if she’d hit him across the face with a tuna.

Then he made a courtly bow. “I would be most honoured to have your custom, Mistress Turski.”

Stephanie noted that he had said your custom instead of thy custom. Finally, Cecilio was not dissing her.

****

Seconds later, Cecilio walked to a classroom table and laid down the two cloth rolls that he’d been holding. The first cloth turned out to be white plain-weave cotton cloth, five feet wide and six feet long. The second cloth was like the first, except that—

“It’s gray!” Stephanie exclaimed. “Why is the cloth gray?”

“Grey is how it seemeth,” Cecilio said, “when ’tis cut from the loom and ere we bleach it. ‘Tis proof what I be not, be not”—muttered words in Italian—”I sell not what I own not.”

“He be not working chicanery upon thee,” Shackerley said.

“Ah,” Stephanie replied. She walked to her teacher’s desk and, after some rummaging, came back with a ruler, a magnifying glass, a safety pin, and a cheap solar-powered calculator.

She looked at Cecilio. “Every up-timer woman is going to ask me the same question, and you probably don’t know the answer.”

After several minutes of being bent down over the white cloth, she straightened up. “The thread count is sixty-eight. If you measure across the threads, Mr. Moretti, they average sixty-eight threads per up-time inch.”

“Is that good, or ill, or wretched?” he asked.

Stephanie didn’t say what she thought, which was This isn’t even good enough for the cheapest Wal-Mart bedsheet! Instead, she asked Shackerley, “What do you think of this?”

” ‘Tis excellent cloth, most excellent,” he said. “Upon the London stage, ‘twould make fine costumes indeed.”

“Huh.”

Cecilio asked, “So you have heard my tale, and you have seen my cloth, now will you . . . ?

“Now will I talk with my partner, Tilda. Unless she says ‘No, no, no’ to buying your cotton cloth, tomorrow you, me, and Tilda will travel to Bamberg. That’s a few hours from here.”

“What be in Bamberg?”

“Another up-timer woman, who knows quite a lot about making cloth from India cotton.”

“And how be this up-timer woman a master or scholar at India cotton cloth, when thine own libraries know little?” Cecilio asked.

Stephanie noted that Cecilio had dissed her again.

Stephanie’s smile was cruel. “Up-time, Sumitra’s father was a floor manager in a cotton mill. Sumitra worked in that same mill for a few months when she was sixteen, as a weaver. Sumitra is from northwest India.”

Then Stephanie’s smile changed to sickly-sweet. “Would it be okay if I took your samples home tonight? I’d really, really appreciate it.”

Stephanie was being presumptuous with Moretti: She couldn’t simply take tomorrow off without Mr. Saluzzo’s permission. But when Stephanie showed the white and gray cotton cloths to the principal, Mr. Saluzzo quickly gave the needed permission.

“How long till we have cotton underwear again?” Mr. Saluzzo asked Stephanie.

****

“Oh, Stephanie,” Tilda Gundlach said, hours later, “do you want to starve me?” Tailor-widow Tilda owned a Higgins sewing machine, was still making payments on it, and those payments weren’t cheap.

“I don’t get it,” said Aaron Turski, who was Stephanie’s younger son. “Frau Gundlach doesn’t look starved to me.” Aaron sucked in his cheeks to show what he meant.

Seth Turski, Stephanie’s older son, slapped his brother on the arm. “Frau Gundlach doesn’t mean starving for real, brainless boy. She means that if she and Mom buy this cotton cloth, something might go wrong, then Frau Gundlach will get her Higgins repoed.”

“Stop it, I’m trying to eat,” Aaron said. “Mom, tell Seth to stop hitting me.”

Stephanie eyed the perp. “Seth knows better. Don’t you, Seth?” Once Stephanie had collected a shrug from Seth, she turned to Tilda.

Stephanie said to Tilda, “This could be big, really big. I don’t think even Cecilio Moretti realizes what he maybe has got.”

“We might get rich?” Aaron asked hopefully.

Stephanie smiled at her son. “Mister Moretti will get filthy, obscenely, ridiculously rich, by five years from now. Tilda and I can get a big piece of that, by acting smart before the price jump.”

“What price jump?” Seth asked.

“I’ve been thinking hard about this, since this afternoon. Everyone has heard of David Bartley and Admiral Simpson, right?” When everyone nodded, Stephanie said, “What people forget about Admiral Simpson is that he wants so much to put all his people in uniforms, he can taste it.”

Five minutes later, Stephanie was looking straight into Tilda’s eyes. ” . . . So, that’s my idea, that we buy tomorrow all the cotton cloth we can afford. Yes, I know it’s bet-the-farm risky. If it turns out nobody wants cotton clothing, you and I are in big trouble. But if Bartley and Simpson make the price of cotton cloth go way up, nobody can touch us. Your call, Tilda. After all, you owe money on your sewing machine, while I’ve got zillions in blue-jeans money at the credit union.”

“Yeah, zillions, and nuthin’ to spend it on,” Aaron pouted. “This world needs video-game and comic-book stores.”

“Miss MacDougall says video games are silly,” Seth said. “She says only boys with no imagination play video games.” Fenella MacDougall was Seth’s English teacher.

“Seth has a cru-ush!” Aaron sing-songed.

Seth’s face turned apple-red. “I’m going to hit you harder if you don’t be quiet!”

“Ahem,” Tilda said, acting unaware of the glare and the smirk only a few feet away. Tilda continued, “Stephanie, none of your plans matter if this Sumitra says the cloth is no good. So my next question is, what is Sumitra like?”

Stephanie replied, “Well, some of that, I’ll need to ask her permission to tell you—”

Hearing this, Tilda’s eyebrows shot up.

Stephanie continued, “A few months after the Ring of Fire, I got a phone call . . . .”

Stephanie didn’t tell Tilda much, especially with Seth and Aaron listening. But Stephanie remembered that day clearly.

 

At the kitchen phone

Turski residence

August 13, 1631

 

“Um, this is the Stephanie Turski residence?” a young up-timer woman asked over the phone. She sounded nervous.

Stephanie stretched the phone-receiver cord, and went back to cooking potato pancakes. “Yes, and I’m Stephanie. Are you a telemarketer, sweetie?”

“What?” the voice said. “Oh, I get it, that’s a joke. Um . . . my name is Samantha Salerno. I’ve never took any of your classes, but I go to Saint Vin—to Saint Mary’s. Anyway, um . . . I’m calling because kids who know you, they all say you’re cool.”

“Thank you, it’s always nice to hear that. But sweetie, you didn’t call to brighten my day. It sounds like you’re in trouble. Or maybe you can’t adjust to the Ring of Fire?”

“Not me, I’m fine. But my friend Sumitra, she’s a basket case! She keeps apologizing to me, ‘I am sorry, I am sorry,’ but she won’t tell me what she’s sorry for! And she’s said several times, ‘I caused all this’—”

“Ah, so she thinks she caused the Ring of Fire?”

“At first, I thought she was joking, because of . . . ”

Stephanie waited ten seconds, then said, “Go on, you were saying? You thought she was joking, because of what?”

“Sorry, it’s really silly, but I promised I won’t tell. Anyway, I thought she was joking, but now I think that she thinks she really caused all this! Please, can you talk to her?”

“Why not have Sumitra talk to one of the people counseling at the high—”

“Sumitra says it’s because she graduated a month ago, so she won’t be allowed to talk to those guys. But me, I think she doesn’t want anybody noticing she’s talking to a shrink. But she needs to talk to somebody!”

Stephanie was trying to remember what she’d learned in Freshman Psych at WVU. “Does Sumitra cry a lot?” Stephanie asked.

“Before the Ring of Fire, never. These days? All the time. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was pregnant!”

Stephanie asked, “Oh? Why don’t you think she’s pregnant?”

“Because the whole year with us, she’s never once dated. Which I don’t get, because Ent Martin drools like an idiot whenever she walks into the room.”

Stephanie thought, Hm, at least one boy likes her, but she doesn’t date. Hm. “Okay, sweetie, I’ll talk to her. I’m fixing dinner now, so bring her by in an hour and a half. My address is . . . ”

 

An hour and forty minutes later

 

A young woman from India sat in Stephanie’s living room. Sumitra had black, straight hair that also was long, thick, flawless, and shiny like a shampoo model’s hair; Stephanie felt a moment’s envy.

Seth and Aaron had been sent to their rooms. Samantha had just ridden away on her bicycle. Which meant: Stephanie and Sumitra were alone, and would remain alone.

Sumitra said, while staring at the living-room floor, “Samantha knows about the hamburger. She did tell to you about the hamburger, yes?”

“No, she didn’t,” Stephanie said. “What happened with the hamburger, sweetie?”

Still staring at the floor, Sumitra explained how she’d violated one of the biggest taboos that the Hindu religion had, before and during the Ring of Fire.

Stephanie asked, “So do you think the Hindu gods caused all this, just to punish you?”

The Indian girl continued to stare at the floor, while she sighed and twisted her fingers. “The Hindu gods. The Catholic gods. The Lutheran gods. All them together? I do not know, but I know the gods punish me.”

Stephanie replied, “Sweetie, you’re not the only person who feels he or she caused this. I know this for a fact.”

“Other people think this?”

“Okay, remember that your class held prom, the night before—”

“I remember this well. I was not invited.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie. Anyway, the day after the gymnasium meeting, Tony Mastroianni told an odd story to all us teachers who had lunch with him. A boy had confessed to Tony, to ‘causing’ the Ring of Fire. After the prom, the boy had unprotected sex with his date, after already deciding that if she got pregnant, he wouldn’t marry her. So however-many days later, Tony said, the boy was convinced that his selfish action and his selfish thought ‘made God mad,’ so the Ring of Fire happened a few hours later.”

“All because of him?”

“Partly because of him. Then the next day, a student of mine—I won’t mention her name, because she graduated with you—told me how she’d given her virginity to her boyfriend after the prom, besides performing oral sex on him. The next day, we’re here in Thuringia, and she decided she was part-way to blame.”

“What happened to the other two people? The girl who maybe is pregnant, and the boy who received the oral sex?”

“It turns out, both of them got left up-time. In—”

“So maybe this is, the gods are not angry to me, the gods are angry to us.”

“Sweetie, if God got mad at a girl for giving oral sex, that whore Geri Kinney would have been struck by lightning years ago.” Stephanie didn’t add, Especially if God even slightly listens to my prayers.

Sumitra said, “But the gods—”

Stephanie really wanted to avoid a discussion about religion. Thinking hard, she remembered something that Sumitra had said earlier. “You said, ‘Samantha knows about the hamburger.’ Is something bothering you that Samantha doesn’t know about?”

The young woman’s shoulders began to shake. Between sobs, she said, “Please, do not tell to Samantha. What I tell to you, do not tell to Samantha! Promise to me, please!”

“I promise, I won’t tell her,” Stephanie said quietly, then asked just as quietly, “Were you raped? Did a German man rape you?”

At last, Sumitra’s eyes came up off the floor. “What? No. No man. I am the virgin, to all the sex.”

“So what’s bothering you?”

“Samantha is the virgin also. But I do not want to give my virginity to the boy, I want to give this to Samantha! I love her eyes, I love her smile, I love her laugh, I love how she talks the West Virginia. So much I love her hair-smell, and so much I love her skin-smell. Before the Ring of Fire hit, and after, I smelled Samantha, and I was keen to kiss her, and to kiss her, and to kiss her where nobody kissed her ever!”

“And you think this is wrong? Listen, sweetie—”

“In old, old India, when two virgins did sex, the judge fined each virgin much money, and the judge cut off two fingers of each girl.”

“Sumitra, sweetie—”

“The Christians say two virgin girls do sex, this is evil. So I am evil! I did the two evil things—I ate the beef, and I wanted to do sex with the virgin girl when I am also the virgin girl—and Somebody-God said, ‘I will punish her. No, she is so much evil, I will punish everyone near her.’ Please, you tell to Samantha, ‘Sumitra is dreadfully sorry.’ ”

The art teacher’s response was pure gut-instinct. She threw her arms around the Indian girl, hugged Sumitra close, and murmured, “You poor girl, you poor girl.”

Sumitra struggled to get free. “Why do you do this? I am evil! I made you go to 1631! You not must touch me!”

Stephanie kept hugging. “If you were evil, would I be doing this? You poor girl.”

Maybe twenty seconds later, Sumitra’s sobs turned to sniffles. Several minutes later, the sniffles stopped. Sumitra made one big sniff, and tried to push away. Stephanie let go.

“What do you think about me?” Sumitra asked. “Honest, please.”

Stephanie said, “Sweetie, I don’t know why we’re here in Germany. I’m not a brain in science, and I don’t know a lot about the Bible—and those people don’t know why we’re here either. But lesbians I know something about. I’ve taken classes with some, rehearsed plays with some, and been hit on by some.”

Stephanie stared into Sumitra’s eyes and continued: “You are not evil. You are not wicked. I’m sure that you are not to blame for any of this.”

The girl from India threw her arms around the art teacher and squeezed hard.

One minute later, Stephanie phoned Nicki Jo Prickett, a woman Stephanie knew only by gossip; Nicki Jo supposedly had told people she was a lesbian.

After Nicki Jo answered the telephone—

“Nicki Jo? Hi, my name’s Stephanie Turski. Um, you don’t know me, but I’m an art teacher at the high school—”

“Yes, I’ve heard of you.” The woman’s voice sounded wary.

“I’ve been talking to a young woman, a high-school student and, um, she has a problem that I think you can help her with, better than I can.”

“What problem is that?” The voice definitely was wary now.

“This girl has a friend, a girl friend. And this girl really, really likes her friend.”

“Which explains why the first girl picked the second girl to be her friend. Why are you calling me about these two girls, Ms. Turski?”

“Because the first girl doesn’t only like her friend, she’s—she’s in love with her friend. The first girl is . . . a lesbian. But she’s pretty sure that her friend isn’t.”

“So you’re calling me because you’ve heard stories about me. Stories that say I’m some kind of lesbian.”

“I don’t know what kind of lesbian you are, Nicki Jo—the stories don’t give details.”

“Then the stories are right. I’m a lesbian who keeps things private.” The phone went silent for ten seconds. “You haven’t mentioned whether this girl has her own transportation.”

“She has a bicycle. No car. You want her to come to your place?”

“I’d recommend she meet me by the Fluharty mausoleum at the Uphill Cemetery. People might not even see us together, but if they do, they can’t hear us talk. Wait, it has to be sometime tomorrow, because it’s dark now.”

“Nicki Jo, unless you’re busy now, why don’t you come to my house? She’s here in my living room.”

Wariness was replaced with surprise. “You’re inviting me to—sure, that works. I need your address.”

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. Stephanie introduced the young women—Nicki Jo, it turned out, was only three years older than Sumitra. Then Stephanie grabbed a novel and went into the kitchen, giving her guests privacy to talk.

A half-hour later, Nicki Jo and Sumitra walked into the kitchen. Sumitra was smiling.

Stephanie felt good.

Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia Women’s College (formerly the Inn Of The Twin Oaks)

Bamberg, Franconia, SoTF

Tuesday, September 9, 1636, soon after 8 a.m.

 

Over five years after Sumitra had sobbed in Stephanie Turski’s living room, Sumitra was still secretly in love with her best friend Samantha. But now both of the former high-school students were students at Saint Liz College.

In her dormitory room, college student Sumitra was drying her hair with a worn-out up-time towel that Hilary Chehab had given her. Someone knocked on Sumitra’s door.

“Want me to get it?” Sumitra’s roommate Polyxena von Leiningen asked. After all, Polyxena was fully dressed, while Sumitra at the moment was standing naked in front of the basin and pitcher.

“Would you, please?” Sumitra said with Thuringian accent, as she wrapped her nakedness with a second ratty towel. Five years after the Ring of Fire, Sumitra was proud that her German was better than her English.

“I hurry to obey, my lady,” Polyxena said with a smile, then she walked to the door.

“Stop that!” Sumitra said with her own smile. ” ‘No servants,’ remember?”

“Don’t remind me,” Polyxena replied, showing a comically sad face. Polyxena was one of three Adel women attending Saint Elisabeth College, and all three clearly disliked the decree that anyone living in the former inn may have with her “no chaperones, no personal maids, no cooks, and no servants of any kind.”

To Sumitra, Polyxena was a big improvement over the other two young noblewomen, because Polyxena showed her disapproval of the edict only by making jokes. Even better for Sumitra, Polyxena’s jokes were actually funny.

As for the other two Adel women, Sumitra’s thinking was, What do they have to complain about?

After all, soon after the Educational Order Of Saint Elisabeth Of Thuringia had expropriated the Inn Of The Twin Oaks by mysterious means, the men of Saint Mary’s of Grantville had descended upon the building. There was now a water tank and windmill on the roof, and running water at the end of the hallway. So the servantless Fräulein von Whine and Fräulein von Complain weren’t as bad off as they claimed to be.

By now, Polyxena was at the dorm-room door. She opened it, to reveal Frau Witterin, the House Mother.

Frau Witterin said, “Sumitra, there’s a Telegrambote with a message for you. I’ll tell him you’re not decent.”

Sumitra said, “Tell him it’ll be a few minutes till I can come out. If he won’t wait, he can give the telegram to you.”

Neither Polyxena nor Frau Witterin suggested letting the telegram boy walk into the building and go straight to Sumitra’s door, even with an escort. A rule of the college forbade this. Sumitra thought that the “No man allowed in the dormitory, ever, we mean it, amen” rule was extreme—Nobody’s father allowed? No brother? No telegram boy?—but Sumitra knew she’d be outvoted, so she stayed silent this minute as well.

After Frau Witterin had left and Polyxena shut the door, Polyxena turned to Sumitra. Polyxena’s eyes were glowing. “You got a telegram! Who do you think it’s from?”

At times, three-years-younger Polyxena treated Sumitra like a Bollywood bhagwan (star), and this was one of those times. Sumitra was sure that Polyxena was imagining D’Artagnan standing at a telegraph office, sending a telegram to Sumitra, his sari-dressed secret love.

Back in the real world, Sumitra replied casually, “I have no idea who sent me a telegram. Soon I’ll find out.”

By the time that Sumitra was dressed and was brushing her black hair, Frau Witterin was handing Polyxena the telegram in its envelope. Polyxena thanked Frau Witterin, shut the door, then rushed across the room to present the envelope to Sumitra. Polyxena didn’t say words, but her expression screamed, Open it! Open it NOW!

Seconds later, Sumitra was reading the telegram aloud, translating as needed:

 

MISS SUMITRA PATEL (AUS INDIEN)

HEILIGE ELISABETH VON THÃœRINGEN FRAUENHOCHSCHULE

BAMBERG

 

TILDA AND I ON TRAIN TODAY TO SEE YOU.

ARRIVE 12 20.

PLEASE PLEASE WEAR JEANS.

STEPHANIE.

“This is strange,” Sumitra remarked.

“Who is Tilda?” Polyxena asked. Sumitra had already told Polyxena who Stephanie Turski was, and most of how Stephanie had helped Sumitra. Namely, Sumitra and Stephanie sent letters back and forth; Stephanie in person had touted Sumitra’s admission to Saint Liz College; and in the last few months, Stephanie had sent Sumitra bank drafts in small amounts.

Now Sumitra said, “Tilda? She’s Stephanie’s partner in Up & Down Clothing.”

Polyxena said, “Really?” A pause. “Um, Sumitra?” A pause. “The radio says the train has a new locomotive-thingy. I’ll bet it’s something great to see.”

Sumitra hid a smile. Polyxena’s fascination with Grantville wonders did not include machinery.

Sumitra asked with fake casualness, “Would you like to come with me and see the new locomotive, Xena? You also could meet Stephanie in person, if you want. I’ll also invite Samantha and Jacobäa to go with me too, I think.”

Sumitra worked to keep her voice as casual as she could make it, when she mentioned Jacobäa’s name.

“Go with you to the train station?” Polyxena said. “Great!” Then her face fell. “Um, Sumitra, I would really like to wear a nice dress to meet—”

“Xena, don’t worry, we’ll work something out. After all, we’ve worked out one deal already.”

Sumitra was referring to the day that she and Polyxena had met. They’d struck a deal then: Once a week, Sumitra played personal maid and dressed Polyxena up in a fancy gown, later to help Polyxena undress—and in return, Polyxena gave a full week’s tutoring in Latin, church history, and church doctrine.

Now Sumitra continued, “How about we discuss this later? Right now, I need to talk to Dean DiCastro. Otherwise, as soon as I leave the campus wearing those jeans that Stephanie begged for, I’ll get demerits. I don’t think Stephanie intends for me to scrub a floor!”

****

Dean DiCastro didn’t even pause to think. “Request approved,” she said in English.

“Thank you,” Sumitra said.

Instead of handing the telegram back to Sumitra, Dean DiCastro kept it in her left hand. “Come, walk with me,” she said.

Both women walked out of the inn’s common room and into cool sunlight.

“Have you given any more thought to baptism and confirmation?” Dean DiCastro asked. Though Sumitra was attending a Catholic women’s college, she was still officially Hindu.

“I have thought about this. Always I think about this, because of I am here,” Sumitra said. “But I am not ready now, to take the confirmation class and do the baptism.”

Actually, Sumitra was lying by understatement. Up-time, she’d attended Saint Vincent’s a few times with the Salerno family. But within a week of learning she was living in the seventeenth century, she’d decided she could never be Catholic; the Goa Inquisition offended her. Sumitra had never shared her true feelings on this subject with anyone, not even Stephanie or Samantha.

“I see,” Dean DiCastro said now. She waved the telegram. “You know that Stephanie Turski would love to sponsor you. The Salernos too.”

“Are you catching the shit for to admit the Hindu student?” Sumitra said. “You knew this when you invited me.”

“Language, young lady,” Dean DiCastro said, then continued, “Many of us believe that His Eminence”—Cardinal Mazzare—”is a future saint, and it’s by his request that you’re here. You staying Hindu is awkward for him.”

“Maybe he requested me because I am the woman, and I am good at the college. I graduated from Grantville High School one year early, remember, with high marks. Do you know how many women here I tutor in the maths and the science, and I ask for no dosh? I am not the charity victim.”

“Actually, you are a charity case. After all, Saint Mary’s took up a collection for you last year, and Cardinal Mazzare is paying church money toward your tuition.”

“But most of my tuition is paid by the Chehabs,” Sumitra pointed out. “Or is this the next thing on your list, my adoptive family is the Disciples of Christ?”

Dean DiCastro said, “I’m saying this badly. We’re a family here, we Catholics at Saint Elisabeth College. You’ll feel more like a part of our family when you’re Catholic too. Besides, extra ecclesiam nulla salus.” Outside the Church, there is no salvation.

Annoyed, Sumitra replied, “I do not want the salvation, but reincarnation to the better life. I wonder, right now Annalise Richter attends Katharina von Bora”—the Lutheran women’s college in Quedlinburg. “Do they say to her, ‘Stop being Catholic’ like you say to me, ‘Stop being Hindu’?”

“If you don’t intend to become Catholic soon, then why have you come here?”

“Because I am the Hindu, so this is the coin flip, whether I attend Saint Liz College or Katharina College. But Bamberg is closer to Grantville than is Quedlinburg.”

“So you didn’t choose even a little bit to come here, because Samantha Salerno came here to attend college?”

Sumitra still loved Samantha, and Sumitra had come here mainly because Samantha would be here too. But now Sumitra had to pretend otherwise. “Samantha here is the frosting on the cake for me.”

Then Sumitra thought, What an odd question for Dean DiCastro to ask. Aloud, she said, “Why do you ask to me about Samantha?”

Instead of answering, Dean DiCastro sighed, then fell silent.

After ten seconds, Sumitra said, “I listen.”

Dean DiCastro sighed again. “Some women here don’t like how you look at them. They say you look at Samantha Salerno the same way, but more so.”

“What do you say now, that I am the lesbian?”

“I didn’t use that word. How interesting that you did,” Dean DiCastro said.

“I study now church doctrine, remember? I learn this is what you Catholics do: You split the hairs and you play the games with words and notions! You are the coward if you ask to me if I am the lesbian, but you never say the word!”

“How dare you! I can expel you right now for what you just said.”

“News flash, memsahib. I am the Hindu, you do not need any excuse to expel me. But if I am ‘sent down’ for no good reason, I shan’t leave quietly. Where from I come, the rabbit chases the dog.” Sumitra referred to a legend about the founding of Ahmedabad.

Dean DiCastro glared. “I am not a coward. So, Sumitra Patel, I ask you: Are you a lesbian?”

“I am the complete virgin,” Sumitra replied with affronted voice. She didn’t mention that she was a “complete virgin” if she didn’t count breast-stroking and snogging episodes with Jacobäa Hänsler. “Yes, I followed Samantha Salerno to here, but now she has the boyfriend,” Sumitra said, keeping her voice calm and steady.

Sumitra really didn’t want to think about the truth, that she’d lost all hope with Samantha. Sumitra moved quickly to step in front of Dean DiCastro, then to turn and face the older woman.

Sumitra put her hand out. “May I please take back to me my telegram?”

Bamberg Train Station

12:25 p.m.

 

The train from Grantville was pulling into the station.

“Now the questions will be answered!” Polyxena exclaimed. “Why did up-timer Stephanie Turski suddenly decide to visit my roommate Sumitra? Why did Stephanie Turski beg my roommate to wear her blue jeans?”

“Why is Xena dressed to greet Maria Anna, queen in the Low Countries?” Samantha asked, matching Polyxena’s melodramatic tone.

Sumitra said, “Be nice to Xena. Because I’m playing her maid for the second time in a week, she’ll be taking all four of us out to eat, sometime this weekend.”

“Change of food, hooray!” Jacobäa said.

Before anyone else got a chance to reply, Samantha started waving her arms. Sumitra ran suddenly-damp palms down the thighs of her jeans.

A minute later, introductions were being made. Sumitra was saying, ” . . . Stephanie, this is Polyxena, Gräfin von Leiningen-Dagsburg-Falkenburg, my crazy Pfälzerin roommate.”

“Sehr erfreut,” Polyxena said, curtsying.

Tilda said, “I hear the Pfälzerin part. But why is she ‘crazy’?”

Sumitra smiled at Polyxena, then turned back to Tilda. “Because she sees all this as a big adventure! She’s the only down-timer to accept assignment to a bunk-bed dorm room. She even volunteered to take the top bunk.”

Jacobäa said, “She’s welcome to it. Those so-called beds aren’t much wider than a man’s shoulders. Plus in winter, they’re cold! Give me body heat!”

“Yuck!” Samantha replied. “Yeah, my own bunk bed is narrow, but at least it has privacy.”

Continuing the introductions, Sumitra said, “The woman who loves her wide bed is Jacobäa Hänsler, who is a close friend.”

Stephanie cocked an eyebrow. “I hope you and Jacobäa are happy in your friendship,” Stephanie said with a straight face.

 

Seconds later

 

 

Stephanie said, “Signor Moretti, this is Sumitra Patel, from up-time India.”

Sumitra figured out that this was why Stephanie had insisted that Sumitra wear her jeans: They proved she was an up-timer.

Sumitra put her palms and fingertips together in front of her heart, and bowed her head for three seconds. “Namaste,” she said, speaking the word for the first time in years.

Moretti’s eyes went wide. In Hindi he asked, “Where are you from?”

“Ahmedabad.”

“I’ve been there! I’ve bought cotton there,” he said, excited.

“I’m sure our memories of Ahmedabad are very different,” Sumitra said in Hindi, smiling sadly.

In the brief time that Sumitra had been around the Venetian, he’d struck her as abrasive. But now he looked sympathetic. He asked her, “If I may ask, Sumitra-ben, why are . . . why are you here in the Germanies, and not at home?”

“Ahmedabad is not my home anymore,” she said, again with sad voice. “I have no mother there, no father, no aunts or uncles or cousins. No friends.”

Switching to German, Sumitra turned to smile at Stephanie, Samantha, Polyxena, and Jacobäa. Sumitra said, “In Grantville I have adoptive family, and here I have friends.”

Sumitra looked at Samantha again, and smiled at her again. But inside, Sumitra longed anew for the relationship she could never have.

 

Seconds later

 

 

Stephanie was finishing the introductions: “Everyone, this is Tilda Gundlachin, my business partner in Up & Down Clothing.”

“Enchanté,” Polyxena said, and curtsied. Then she gushed, “You are so lucky, to make brand-new clothes by a brand-new way.”

Sumitra smiled at Tilda. “You look so pretty in that dress. Did you make it yourself? And at thirty-two, you’ll look good in dresses for many years to come.”

“Ahem!” said Jacobäa.

Tilda was blushing. “Yes, I sewed this myself, with my sewing machine. I’m not thirty-two; I’m older.”

“I agree, you look older than thirty-two,” said Jacobäa in an annoyed voice.

Stephanie looked at Sumitra and mouthed in English, Thirty-nine.

 

Two minutes later

 

 

Moretti’s grey cloth was being examined closely by Sumitra’s Saint Liz College friends, who found it fascinating. But Sumitra was nowhere near that cloth. Its gray color brought back so many memories—

Sumitra at sixteen, weaving grey cloth at Thar Textiles;

Bhaskar Patel giving awestruck, six-year-old Sumitra a tour of Thar Textiles;

Bhaskar Patel at home, during various years of his daughter’s life;

Sumitra’s mother Ahimsa, at home, during many years of Sumitra’s life.

 

In the train station, Sumitra had shoved the grey cloth at Polyxena. “Please, take it, I can’t stand to see it!”

After that, Sumitra had moved to the side of the train platform that was in sunlight, and now she draped Signor Moretti’s white cotton cloth over a bench. Sumitra bent down to look closely at the cloth. Nearby, Stephanie and Tilda were attentive, whilst Moretti acted nervous.

Sumitra smiled at Moretti. In German, she said, “Here is good news: This cloth looks better than hand-made cotton cloth I’ve seen at the Calico Museum.” Sumitra’s part of India had been making cotton cloth since 3000 BC, so naturally up-time Ahmedabad had a local museum devoted to cloth-making in India. Thus Sumitra had seen a lot of old cotton cloth during various school field trips.

Now Stephanie asked Sumitra the expert, “If that’s the good news, is there bad news?”

Sumitra said, “The bad news is, it’s not as good as up-time cloth. See these little black dots in the threads? They shouldn’t be there.”

“I saw them, but I thought they were flyspecks,” Stephanie said.

“What you see is what shouldn’t be here. Dirt from the field, dried cow dung, ground-up parts of the cotton plant. In English, it’s called trash.”

“Abfall,” Stephanie translated for the onlookers.

Tilda asked, “Will dyeing the cloth make the trash disappear?”

Sumitra said, “You might not see the trash then, but you won’t fix the problem it makes. Wherever the trash shows up, it makes the thread fat. If you lay this cloth flat on something, then get your eye slightly above the flat cloth, you’ll see it’s bumpy in places. If you hold this cloth up to the light, you’ll see bright lines, because there are gaps between the weft threads that the weaver couldn’t close up. Compare this cloth to the cotton cloth in my blue jeans.”

As Stephanie and then Tilda took turns looking at the afternoon sun through the white cloth, Sumitra looked over at Signor Moretti. He was looking back at her, his expression mixing amazement and fear.

By now, Tilda was letting the Saint Elisabeth girls sun-test the cloth, as she walked over to Stephanie and Sumitra. Tilda murmured, “Why is there trash in this cloth? Is he lazy, or is cleaning the cotton harder than I think?”

“Frau Gundlachin, be glad you’ll never need to clean cotton by hand. By the way, India invented the cotton gin, no matter what Americans tell you.”

Speaking loudly enough that Signor Moretti could hear, Tilda asked in a formal voice, “Do you recommend this cloth as well made?”

“Yes, I recommend it,” Sumitra said, in the same formal tone.

“Yippee, let’s party!” Samantha said.

“We’ll do that,” said Tilda, “after Herr Moretti and I haggle over the price of his cloth.”

Which meant, Thanks to Sumitra pointing out things wrong with Moretti’s cloth, I’m about to skin him alive.

Signor Moretti figured that out, too. “Poco momento, per favore,” he said.

He turned to Sumitra and asked in German, “Sumitra-ji, will you please come to Venice and work for me? Help me make better cloth?”

All four of the Saint Elisabeth College women, especially Sumitra, gasped at his words.

Sumitra thought, If I accept his offer, I can’t see Samantha anymore!

Then Sumitra realized, That would actually be a good thing.

Sumitra looked at Samantha and thought, Now is the time to tell her. But Samantha, guessing wrongly about why Sumitra was looking at her, was shaking her head: Tell him no, tell him no.

Sumitra did indeed tell Moretti no—at first. She pretended unwillingness to leave Bamberg. After ten minutes, and after she’d been offered a lot more salary, she finally told Signor Moretti, “I’ll go with you.”

“No-o-o!” Samantha said.

Tilda Gundlach stepped forward then, to begin her own negotiations with Moretti. Meanwhile, Sumitra took Samantha’s hand, and Stephanie’s hand, and walked her two Catholic friends far away from everyone else.

“I lied to the both you,” Sumitra said in English. “I am not Catholic, and never I will be Catholic.”

“You’re not Catholic now,” Samantha said, “but I think sooner or later, you’ll—”

“No. Go to Grantville, read about India of now. Read about the Goa Inquisition. G-O-A. Right now, the Catholics torture the Hindus. You other Catholics say ‘This is right,’ or you say nothing. I never will be Catholic, I am sorry.”

Samantha was crying. “Please, Sumitra, don’t tell me that. I’ve said novenas for you converting.”

Stephanie said, “I haven’t done that, Sumitra sweetie, but I’ve also prayed for you.”

Now Sumitra took a deep breath, as she wiped sweaty palms on her jeans. “Samantha, I love you.”

“I love you too, Sumitra, you’re my best . . . friend . . . .” Samantha stopped talking then, because Sumitra was looking at her very differently from how a BFF would eye her.

Sumitra took another deep breath. “I love you, Samantha Rosa Salerno. I am the lesbian, and I love you. I have loved you since the day in 1999 when I fell on the ice and you tried to help my elbow. But now you have the boyfriend, and I hurt, so I go away now.”

Samantha shook her head. “This isn’t some story? This is true?”

It was Stephanie who answered the question: “Sweetie, Sumitra loves you more than she loves any man alive.”

****

Hours later, Stephanie, Tilda, and Signor Moretti caught the train back to Grantville. Sumitra left Bamberg with them.

Before Sumitra left, she and Samantha held hands and cried at the Bamberg train station. Sumitra inhaled deeply, smelling Samantha for the very last time.

 

****

GLOSSARY

INDIA

Gujarati—an Indo-Aryan language evolved from Sanskrit, and the chief language spoken in the Indian state of Gujarat. This language has 66 million speakers worldwide. It was the native language of Mohandas Gandhi. Gujarati is one of the twenty-two official languages, and one of the fourteen regional languages, of India.

Ahimsa (Sumitra’s mother’s name)—means nonviolence in Hindi

rajah—Indian prince

rupee—in January 1999, the exchange rate was roughly 42.5 rupees per US dollar.

Navratri—festival of nine successive nights of dancing, of young people of both sexes. Each dancer holds dandiya (decorated sticks); as part of the dance, he/she strikes his/her own sticks together, or hits his/her own sticks against the dandiya of another dancer.

For further info and/or illustrations:

http://happynavratri.blogspot.in/

chaniya choli—a costume of Gujarati women consisting of a floor-length skirt (knee-length for teen girls), and a quarter-sleeved, midriff-bearing, backless halter top. Sometimes a dupatta (head scarf) is included as part of the chaniya choli costume, but that would be unwise to wear to any kind of dance.

For further info and/or illustrations: http://happynavratri.blogspot.in/

bhagwan—literally, it means deity; when referring to Bollywood actors, it means movie star.

Goa Inquisition—an Inquisition held in the India coastal city of Goa, during the years 1561-1774 and 1778-1812. Many Hindus and Indian Catholics were tortured.

memsahib—corruption of ma’am + sahib. Form of address by lower-status Indians to the wife of a British colonial official. Sumitra’s use of the deferential term obviously is sarcastic.

“The rabbit chases the dog”—Quoting Wikipedia, “According to the legend [about the founding of Ahmedabad], Sultan Ahmed Shah, while camping on the banks of the SabarmatiRiver, saw a hare chasing a dog. The Sultan was impressed by the act of bravery and decided to locate his capital there. He named the city ‘Ahmedabad’ (‘the city of Ahmed’).”

Namaste—lit., “I bow to you”; in usage, “Hello” or “Goodbye”

-ben, -ji—honorifics when addressing an Indian woman (speaking Gujarati and Hindi, respectively)

ELIZABETHAN

good—a polite form of address to someone common-born

Good Lady Stephanie—Shackerley Marmion’s invented formal address, which acknowledges both Stephanie’s up-timer aristocratic bearing and her common-born bloodline.

hither—to here; hence—from here

wherefore—why

forsooth—indeed

credit—believe

abide—reside

shewed—showed

betide—happen, causing misfortune

tidings—news

forstand—understand

mayhap—perhaps

afore—before

ere—before in time

yon, yonder—that [thing] over there

vex—to bring trouble or agitation

custom—business, becoming a customer

chicanery—deception by subterfuge or sophistry; trickery

AMERICAN

perp—perpetrator, the person who has committed a serious crime

BFF—Best Friend Forever

****