“Ma’am? It’s almost time to meet the ambassador.”
Delaney Cohen cracked her neck and buttoned the last button on her top. She puffed out her cheeks and examined her lipstick for any smudges—it’d been a while since she spoke French. Maybe the ambassador would speak English and she wouldn’t have to fake her way through a terrible accent. She grabbed her lucky pebble and slipped it into her skirt pocket.
“Ma’am? Ms. Cohen?”
“Sorry, Olive.” Delaney smoothed down the fly-aways in her hair and brushed the “I still believe” bumper sticker she’d stuck to the inside of her drawer, where nobody could see. She should’ve left earlier. “I’m ready, I promise.”
“Good. We really can’t afford to be late.” Olive scuttled in front of Delaney and straightened her collar, and although Delaney rolled her eyes, she didn’t push Olive away. She might treat Delaney more like a child than a boss, but it’s not like she could complain. Not now, not as late as she perpetually was. “Come this way, ma’am.”
Delaney followed Olive until they got to the end of the hallway. There, she overtook Olive, so it looked more like the professional-associate relationship it was supposed to be.
“Straighten your back, ma’am,” Olive hissed as Delaney opened the door, and Delaney managed to not roll her eyes a second time as she pressed open the door and squinted in the bright sun. Blinking furiously, Delaney walked briskly towards the circle drive where she stopped. Luckily, the black car that signaled the ambassador’s arrival was just a speck at the end of the mile-long driveway.
Delaney curled her toes in. Her pumps were professional, spotless, and so, so painful. She should’ve cut her toenails last night, but she hadn’t, and she hadn’t this morning and now it was too late, and she would meet the ambassador with pinched, swollen feet. He probably wouldn’t notice though. He’d probably see right through her, just like all the other pompous bureaucrats she’d shown around their new homes.
“Remember, the new ambassador has an aide who is in a wheelchair, so you’ll want to show her all the—”
Olive rolled her eyes. “You really don’t listen, do you? The new ambassador is a woman. The old ambassador retired. That’s why there’s a new ambassador. That’s why you’re showing the new ambassador to her new home. We went over all of this yesterday. Are you a fool, ma’am?”
“No,” said Delaney, feeling quite the fool. “No, I just… I just assumed.” The black speck was getting larger and Delaney straightened her back. A woman. Not that there was anything wrong with that—Delaney had just been expecting a carbon copy of the old ambassador, in all his windbag-ness.
With a cramp in her stomach, Delaney realized that she didn’t remember the new ambassador’s name.
The black speck morphed into a real life car, and as Delaney scrabbled at every French woman’s name she could think of, the car came to a stop in front of her feet.
By the time the driver had opened the backseat door, Delaney had given up, and she smiled at the short, brown skinned woman who climbed out of the car and looked up at her with strangely familiar eyes. Delaney’s smile almost faltered. There was something familiar about the new ambassador.
“Bienvenue, Madame l'ambassadrice,” Delaney said, going into an unnecessary curtsy. Olive gave her a murderous look—no doubt just realizing that Delaney had forgotten the new ambassador’s name. “Je m’appelle Delaney Cohen, et je serai en charge de l'hébergement pour votre séjour dans notre ambassade. C'est mon assistant, Olive Condos.” The French spilled off her tongue clumsily, almost drunkenly. If she’d known she’d be making a first impression, she would’ve practiced earlier. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.
Olive bowed her head in respect, momentarily breaking her stare. “Enchantée, Ambassadrice Desmarais,” she said pointedly and Delaney relaxed her shoulders back.
Ambassador Desmarais smiled politely, and suddenly something clicked in Delaney’s head.
“Oh! Are you related to the former Ambassador Desmarais? Sorry,” she said, quickly regaining her composure, “I mean, uh, es-tu lié—”
“English is fine,” Ambassador Desmarais interrupted. “And yes, I’m his daughter.” She had no accent, unlike her predecessor, and her voice gave Delaney such a sense of déjà vu that it sent shivers down her spine.
“Then you would have grown up here, in this house,” Delaney said, gesturing towards the front door.
“Yes,” Ambassador Desmarais said, gazing up at the awning. “My father always said that when my brother was old enough, he would have this job and live in this house. Theodore became a stripper instead, and now this is all mine. Guess which one of us has a more heavy paycheck, though.”
The ambassador looked down at Delaney and smirked, and Delaney couldn’t help but laugh. When she rumbled down into a giggle, she found the ambassador examining her curiously. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to laugh—she’d just thought it would break the tension that had swamped her every experience with the previous ambassadors.
Then, Ambassador Desmarais laughed as well, and took a step towards the door. “It has been a while since I lived here.”
“Let us show you around.” This was the part Delaney was good at. She lead the ambassador from room to room, floor to floor, and the Ambassador willingly followed, commenting on her own childhood memories in the house. Still, though, Delaney couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew the Ambassador from somewhere, somewhere else than just her familiar last name.
“And here is the service elevator,” Delaney said. Olive fluttered by her elbow—no matter how much she disliked how casual Delaney was acting, there was nothing she could do about it in the presence of the ambassador.
“When I was younger,” Ambassador Desmarais said, “my older sister and I tried to put our little sister in there, before our father caught us.”
Delaney lead her away, towards the third bathroom. “You must have had a big family.”
“Bigger than some. It was us, the three girls, and then my brother, the oldest. My father liked him best. We joke around that he wasn’t paying attention when we were born so he gave us all the same name.”
“Sort of. My sisters are Veronica and Victoria and I’m Berenice, of course,” the ambassador said, and Delaney nodded. Of course. “They all mean victory, or something about victory.”
“That’s very interesting, This is the largest bathroom in the house.” Berenice Desmarais. That was so familiar. Delaney couldn’t deny it now. She knew the ambassador from something, and from the looks the ambassador was shooting her when she wasn’t looking, Ambassador Desmarais knew her too. They never seemed to make eye contact, though.
“It’s very nice. Good tub space.”
“I think so too.”
“And in here is the master bedroom. It’s got a lovely view.”
Ambassador Desmarais pulled open the window. “Ah, screens. I will have to get used to American window screens again.” She sneezed.
“Thank you. Allergies, I fear.”
“That’s a shame.” Delaney narrowed her eyes at the ambassador. “I get them too.”
“Really? Are you new to the area?”
“Nope. Lived here all my life.”
Ambassador Desmarais examined her again. “Where did you go to school? Grace Hodges Academy?”
“No, my mother homeschooled me,” Delaney replied. “I didn’t socialize much as a child. We couldn’t have paid for Grace Hodges Academy. We never did anything on that side of town.”
Stalemate. Delaney and the ambassador studied each other.
“Do you have family in politics?”
“No. My father works in a grocery store and my mother was a professor.”
Olive, who had watched this back and forth and understood none of it, nudged Delaney in the side. Delaney got the message. “Alright. All that’s left to show you is the gardens.”
Berenice Desmarais, Berenice Desmarais, Berenice Desmarais. Delaney tumbled it over and over in her mind as she walked down the stairs. She didn’t bother mentioning the art that adorned the walls—it had been there for more than twenty years, so the ambassador had undoubtedly seen it.
“Careful on the threshold,” she called behind her.
“These are the mums—we have them planted each spring.”
“Oh?” Ambassador Desmarais bent towards the earth. “Can I choose the colors at least?”
Delaney shrugged. “Sure, if you’d like. I can have the gardeners come by next week, if you’d—”
“No, no, I can do it myself. Besides, I’d love to be able to have a garden again. I haven’t been able to dig in any dirt in years, but I learned the basics during a summer camp that I—”
Suddenly, she stopped, and looked up at Delaney, the flush gone from her cheeks.
Delaney took a step back. Berry Desmarais, the only other girl who could speak French at Wilderness Camp in 1983. The only one who had snuck out with her to watch the sunrise. The only other person who had seen Bigfoot that night.
The ambassador stood and bowed slightly, never breaking eye contract with Delaney. “Thank you for showing me the house, Ms. Cohen.”
“Of course, Madame Ambassador,” said Delaney.
“I must be going now,” the Ambassador said, her eyes shining just as brightly as that warm July night when they’d seen Bigfoot emerge from the trees. “I have meetings to attend to.”
“I will call a car for you, Ambassador Desmarais,” said Olive, pulling out her cell phone.
“And if anything doesn’t fit your standards,” Delaney added, “anything at all, feel free to… feel free to call me. I am in charge of accommodations after all.”
The ambassador reached into her pocket and grabbed something, and although she didn’t show it to Delaney, it looked to be about the size as Delaney’s own lucky pebble that she’d stolen from the woods that night to remember. “I’m going to go use the bathroom. I’ll be back before the car comes.”
As the ambassador crossed back into the house, Olive finished her phone call and nudged Delaney with her elbow. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that you and the ambassador seemed to be flirting, ma’am.”
“No, not really.” Delaney smiled. The bond they shared was far greater than any romance anyway.
Delaney smiled. France-US relations were in good hands.