Buffy stared in utter shock at the other woman sympathetically looking back at her. The suddenly-frantic blonde protested with the first thing that came to mind, “But-- but I haven’t finished my training yet!”
Françoise sighed, and then she regretfully agreed, “Yes, and we’d have very much preferred that you completed this without any of the major distractions that will now be coming your way. However, despite our best efforts to keep your presence here confidential, rumors have managed to reach the ears of the press. As a newswoman myself, I can understand their eagerness to confirm the story of an absolute unknown who’s joined Europe’s premier racing team. When you add the fact that you’re not only an American, but you’re also just the third woman ever to join the rest of the male drivers on the track in the history of racing, it’s sure to be a once-in-a-decade media event.”
“Glugh!” managed to escape from Buffy’s constricted throat, with the sheer panic that had caused this to close now shining brightly from the Slayer’s apprehensive eyes.
Reaching across the dining room table to comfortingly pat Buffy’s trembling hand that was making ripples in the last of the coffee contained in the cup she was still holding, Françoise then said in her most soothing voice, “Elizabeth, you can do this, with our help. Over the next day or two, we will be setting up rehearsals here that will allow you to become used to dealing with the media. These practice sessions will include groups of our people shouting questions to you, taking pictures, and otherwise acting in the normal manner of these obnoxious, disrespectful, and meddlesome pigs.”
Despite herself, Buffy had to grin at the deadpan look Françoise had abruptly developed upon that older woman’s face when she’d delivered that last mocking comment. Feeling a bit better, Buffy got off, “Aren’t you
one of those people you just insulted, what with you being a reporter? So, how can you--”
“Oh, I too am most certainly obnoxious, disrespectful, and meddlesome in my work,” imperturbably interrupted Françoise, only to send towards a now-giggling Buffy a stern glower at that young lady’s incivility. Yet in that frown, there was also the slightest hint of a twinkle of wicked amusement deep in the Frenchwoman’s eyes, as she further proclaimed, “However, kindly never refer to me as a swine. No, indeed. What I am is a fierce tigress, stalking and pouncing onto my prey and sharing the spoils of that delicious story with those of my readers who will properly appreciate my labors.”
Leaning back in her chair, Françoise benevolently watched for the next minute or two how Buffy was roaring with laughter after that girl had dropped her head onto the tablecloth, pressing her gleeful face against the white covering. When this was over and her companion had finally straightened up to dab at her eyes with a napkin and then send a smile of thanks at Françoise, that satisfied adult moved onto the next order of business.
“Elizabeth, now that you feel better, there’s something else you can do, if you’re agreeable to it.” Françoise approvingly eyed her ready listener, to then say something entirely out of the blue. “Have you heard of Caroline duBois?”
“Uh, no, Françoise. Am I supposed to?” asked a puzzled Buffy.
That response brought from Françoise a very sardonic glance, who then wryly commented, “It would be for the best in the future to never mention what you just said to her. Caroline is in this country what Oprah Winfrey is in yours, a tremendously popular host of her own television talk show who interviews celebrities and other people of note. Over the years, she has also presented on her program various newsworthy events. Which means that due to Caroline being both a personal friend of mine and also someone who would cheerfully kill to be the first to interview you, there will be no trouble at all in arranging for your initial appearance as a Team Vaillant member to be on her show the day before the press conference. Let the cochons choke on that.
Buffy gaped at Françoise softly chuckling to herself as she contemplated how furious her rivals in the media would be about having to play catch-up after missing the chance to break the news story of the year about Elizabeth Summers. Her attention drawn back across the table by a throat there being worriedly cleared, Françoise lifted an inquiring eyebrow in time to be tentatively asked, “Uh, Françoise, what’s this Caroline like, anyway?”
The older woman sent a kind smile towards her anxious companion, speaking reassuringly, “She’s very nice, Elizabeth. That’s the main reason why she’s so popular here. Caroline is genuinely interested in others, not to mention being so pleasant and likable that just about everyone she meets is quickly put at their ease and becomes eager to talk at great length with her, even going so far as to tell her their deepest secrets. I’ve seen it happen myself, and it’s quite remarkable.”
“Oh,” blankly responded Buffy, who wasn’t sure exactly how to think about that. What Françoise had just proposed seemed like a better deal than having to face a couple of dozen reporters all at once, with those people given full reign to ask as many prying questions as they could come up with during the press conference. However, Françoise’s suggestion had its own risks. A one-on-one interview with somebody who appeared to have such a charismatic personality to make her guests happily reveal their entire private lives suddenly didn’t seem all that appealing to Buffy. Oh, this Caroline woman sounded nice enough, as shown by how Françoise had just described her friend, but Michel Vaillant’s wife had also revealed that nobody
got to be so successful in their job of hosting a talk show without being very, very good at this. It was one thing for Buffy to successfully conceal how she’d been fighting against supernatural evil ever since high school from ordinary people who were quite willing to take her at face value, but doing this under the glare of tv studio lights while looking into her questioner’s expectant face was going to be extremely tricky.
The Slayer blinked at recognizing that she’d already decided to agree to what Françoise had suggested, even though her stomach had immediately tightly clenched itself right there at the dining table, anticipating the prospect of the major stress that was sure to come. Buffy mentally grumbled to herself that it was one thing to airily plan with her friends and her doctor how to conceal the fact that a stunning blonde woman with a fondness for expensive shoes was in reality a superhuman warrior battling nightly against creatures of the dark anxious to slaughter humanity and bring devastation to the world.
Well…. She hadn’t been specifically doing that
for the last couple of weeks, ever since she’d started living in France. Her current locale was pretty much demon-free, and that had continued during the Summers sisters’ sightseeing trips to the various towns and small cities near by the racing center. There’d generally been at those places only a single vampire or two, and about the same number of other kinds of aggressive demons had been encountered by Buffy taking an occasional patrol during her overnight vacation stays simply to avoid getting rusty at her Slayer work. It’d all wound up with the past several months being one of the most peaceful times of her life ever since a very weird guy had thrown a razor-sharp knife right into the face of a California high-school cheerleader, who’d then unthinkingly caught the deadly weapon in mid-air.
Oddly enough, that recent period of inactivity at being a champion of the human race, to instead concentrate upon learning how to be a professional race car driver, hadn’t seemed to have pissed off all that much what Buffy had come to think of as her Slayerness. This ferocious predator temperament passed on through innumerable generations of young girls ever since Sineya had been sacrificed by the Shadowmen, producing a habitually overriding need to stalk her unholy prey through the blackest nights and then utterly eradicate those foul fiends, had in fact been rather subdued over the last month or so, as best as she could describe it. Oh, it wasn’t like her Slayer aggressiveness had vanished or anything else like that. Buffy could still feel the familiar intensity lurking deep in her soul, readily awaiting the next chance to defend the innocent and bring down low the wicked, but….she could also sense, strange as it might seem, that this normal search-and-destroy attitude was for the nonce, perfectly willing to kick back and relax.
However astonishing the recent state of affairs was inside her head (and the blonde was without a doubt going to thoroughly discuss this with Dr. Crane the very next chance she got), at least Buffy’s current attempts to pass herself off as an ordinary American girl to everyone at the racing center seemed to have succeeded quite well. Still, in spite of this entirely laudable achievement, that triumph could quickly come to an end if a certain talk show host decided to thoroughly investigate the past life of her latest guest. Despite Buffy’s earlier worries, the really big secrets would probably remain hidden, if only because Caroline duBois, like the rest of the mostly unaware human race, would never even dream in the first place that such things as magic, demons, and all the rest of the supernatural stuff indeed existed. Nor, should the worse come to pass and that French lady actually managed to discover the truth, was it likely that she’d promptly announce this incredible news to her tv audience. Not when the most probable outcome of this
would be the instant cancellation of her show and Caroline being gently led away to very comfortable and secure living quarters to start her recovery from what could be nothing but a serious case of overwork.
From personal experience, Buffy knew how that went. Thanks a lot, Hank and Joyce. Nevertheless, what caused the Slayer to fret the most was the possibility of her little
secrets being exposed to everyone, which if not as world-shaking as being outed as someone with superhuman powers, still had the capability of being completely and totally humiliating.
For somebody who’d single-handedly saved the entire world a couple of times, while occasionally paying the ultimate price for this, the oldest Summers sister would much rather fight at once every single one of her previous Big Bads all over again. With both arms tied behind her back, ankles chained together, and wearing a ball gag so she couldn’t at least use her teeth. All to avoid being asked right to her face such painful questions on how she felt about her father breaking up his marriage by eagerly running off to Spain with his secretary, to never contact his daughters again, even after their mother died.
It all came down to this: a mundane, if very popular, talk show host having on her program an interesting (but still not all that out of the ordinary) young woman would surely use all of her resources to look into that person’s prior life, in an effort to make today’s episodes a great deal more entertaining to those viewers turning in to be told how Elizabeth Summers had become the most recent member of Team Vaillant. A truly glum Buffy figured out that among everything else, somehow her horrible street driving habits were going to be discussed, which in turn would lead to the most embarrassing and personal stuff.
It was at that point where Buffy heard across from herself a throat being politely cleared, which instantly returned that young woman’s attention to the dining table and her companion. Sheepishly regarding a patient Françoise, the Slayer blurted out, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to take so long to think about it, but I’ll be ready to go on your friend’s show whenever it’s arranged.”
An elegant eyebrow rose, as Françoise heard that note of evident reluctance in her guest’s voice. This older female cautiously inquired, “Are you positive about this, Elizabeth? You seem to be rather averse to the idea, after all.”
Still having never actually gotten around to correcting anyone at the racing center regarding her true name, Buffy (*Oh, god, is this Caroline lady gonna bring that up? Gee, what are the chances she won’t?*) now ruefully shrugged, to then answer in the most honest tone she could manage, “I know it’s now part of my job, and I’ve learned the hard way not to avoid my responsibilities. There’s things that I’d really prefer never to talk about, but if your friend is fair and polite about it, and has a good enough reason to ask on the air, I’ll do my best to answer as truthfully as I can.”
Slowly nodding her acceptance to this candid declaration, Françoise approvingly told her companion, “No one may expect more than that, Elizabeth. Caroline knows this, and she will be as kind as she can possibly be.”
Seeing the surge of relief suddenly appear on the younger woman’s face over what she’d just heard, Françoise felt a mild twinge of regret over invading that brave girl’s privacy over what she next had to say. Nevertheless, that short pang of guilt was quickly crushed under the enormous weight of sheer curiosity that had been building up throughout their entire conversation. “Ah, Elizabeth…. I am afraid that there is one question which Caroline is sure to ask. This will come about right at the beginning of her interview with you, perhaps even in the first minute.”
In the dining room, Buffy felt her heart sink at the news that somehow her mental disorder was already known to Françoise, and would soon be learned about by that woman’s friend. The American glumly observed across the table there the exceedingly odd air abruptly shown by her older companion, as she clearly tried to think of how to mention the ensuing subject without actually offending the person she knew as Elizabeth Summers. The Slayer’s sudden dejection made Buffy miss how very familiar that truly strange expression should have been to her by now, as over the last week or so, just about every native of this European country that she’d encountered and spoken to soon developed a really peculiar look on their faces, composed of half awe and half incredulity.
A determined intake of breath brought Buffy’s attention back to Françoise, as that woman now spoke in her birth tongue that they’d both been easily chatting in throughout their lunch, without either using a single word of English at all.
“Elizabeth, in the name of God, just where
did you learn your Français?”
Author’s Note: While you’re contemplating the cliffy, here’s an explanation about something else:
As mentioned in this chapter by Françoise, Caroline duBois is an entirely imaginary character, since there was at the time of this story no Frenchwoman in that country specifically doing anything like the recently-cancelled ‘Oprah’ that matched Oprah Winfrey’s popularity in the United States. However, the French do
love what they call ‘un-talk-show’, as currently best represented by the program On n’est pas couché
. (Here’s a link to a hilarious review of that show: http://www.richardcotman.com/etnobofin/2009/05/le-talk-show-a-beginners-guide/)
So, it was easy enough to make up somebody like Caroline and put that host in the Buffyverse. Enjoy!