Rough and unedited as always. Fair sized because it will be in the Amazon preview anyway.
Eileen sat back and observed the party with a detachment that was calculating, and beyond her years. That was her personality. She suffered from being too smart, and had made a good start on learning to hide it. Fortunately there was no local school organized yet, and most of the others her age just thought she was socially dull. That was far easier to forgive than smart.
She was dressed in nice store bought. It wasn’t so long since The Day when the grid went down and modern commerce ceased, to mean manufactured clothing was uncommon yet. Especially, nicer things were saved for special occasions. The roads would be open again, local governments in control again, and commerce with other states and regions reestablished before they got all that rare. Goods were already being brought in at very high prices.
For now however, there was an economy of scarcity, and the hand of government had lifted enough that nobody batted an eye at weapons worn to the celebration. Safety on the road here was uncertain. Neither were intoxicates absent, even though minors were present. Whether those minors partook was once again a family concern, although there was community involvement, since people felt free again to report what they saw the young people do to parents.
The things Eileen had on she hadn’t owned two years ago. That was true of most of the young people in the barn. Almost all of them grew too fast to be wearing what they owned two years ago, but fancy clothes were precious now, and nobody tossed anything store bought in the trash, until it was worn out and had done duty as rags.
The difference was some of the young ladies, and a few of the young men dressed like it was three years ago and they were visiting a night club. A few in contrast looked like they might be part of a wedding party or a christening, and one unfortunate young man looked like he belonged in a period movie about disco dancing. That party clothes were precious didn’t mean there was a great selection or prices were not tiered sharply. The quality of haircuts had dropped precipitously, and makeup was rationed even tighter than nice clothing.
Eileen on the other hand had on a pretty blouse and jeans that weren’t worn ragged. Almost nobody had saved a pair of jeans for good. They had reverted to work wear again by default, and seeing a nice pair was unusual now. She didn’t bother with makeup and didn’t need it. She had on ankle hiking boots worth more than a sequin dress, and her only real concession to formality was real diamond earrings and a gold chain. Most of her peers didn’t have the depth to be able to distinguish real jewelry from fake, but her elders did. She looked like she was prepared to go help in the kitchen if need be, or ride home on a horse, without ruining her outfit. Others were not so practical. Some had changed their outfits when they arrived rather than ruin them on the road.
The young guys were awkward and dazzled by the girls who looked like they just stepped out of a TV screen or an old magazine to them. There was still satellite TV service and some working receivers owned by folks with their own power. A few had moved them to an outbuilding or garage and made a business of them. Popcorn was planted for next year. The magazines were now wrinkled and dog-eared from renewed popularity. They weren’t discarded after a read-through, since new were rare. They were in fact a trade item now.
Several young men had been bright enough to ignore the flashier clothing and aggressive come-hither looks present, and see Eileen as a very worthy target of their attention. She looked old enough they offered her a cider or stronger drink and they came up with drink already in hand, overly confident.
Since such a favor seemed to be a license to linger and talk, or even in a few cases stake some sort of claim for the evening, she declined them. Considering her worthy wasn’t sufficient to guarantee she reciprocated. She was picky.
Victor Foy came by with a beer in his hand and nodded at her. Eileen nodded politely back. Then Vic looked to each side at her female companions, and scowled. “You mean to say there isn’t a young buck here with the wits to bring you a drink?” he growled.
His manner didn’t put Eileen off, it amused her. “Don’t blame them. I had a few offers, but their demeanor suggested they thought they were setting claim markers around me. If you want to bring me something I’d welcome it.” The girl on Eileen’s right gasped at her boldness, and she and Vic both looked at her amused.
“Cider?” he asked, accepting the duty.
“That would be nice,” Eileen said. “Dad started some apple trees, but it’s still a treat for us.”
“He’s too old for you,” the gasping companion hissed, as soon as he departed. The other girl asked, “What’s duh-meaner mean?”
Eileen wasn’t giving vocabulary lessons today, but she answered the hisser.
“Now really, I know he’s older, but I think he’ll last long enough to return with a cider. he’s hardly wobbling on a cane and ready to fall on his face any moment.”
“You’d be safer if he was,” the girl warned her. “He’s entirely too spry, and I see how he looks at the young girls here.”
“Yes, he gives a subtle glance instead of drooling with his mouth hanging open like the young fools,” Eileen agreed. “On the whole I’d rather a little less desperation.”
“You’re hopeless,” the girl concluded, and left to seek better company before it rubbed off. The other girl was afraid she’s be confided in, or worse required to speak, so she followed after the other quickly.
“I hope you didn’t chase your friends away for me,” Vic said when he came back.
“They just happened to be by me. We aren’t friends nor likely to ever be friends. Why would you think I’d chase them away?” She really wanted to know.
“Most of the young men are intimidated by a group of girls,” Vic said, handing her the cider. “It’s a strategic error really if the girls want to meet someone. They feel better having some company, but they don’t realize they’re intimidating the poor fellows.”
“Shouldn’t their mothers tell them how counter-productive that is?” Eileen asked him.
“It’s a guy thing. I’m not sure most of the moms ever figured it out, and the fathers aren’t going to share it, because most of them would be happy if their girls didn’t notice that boys exist until they’re about thirty or so.”
“So, I’m getting the rarely revealed inside male scoop here?” Eileen asked.
“Yes, but I’ve played cards with you, you’re bright enough to figure it out on your own. This is a fairly bright bunch,” Vic said, waving his beer inclusively.
“The attack on Vandenberg sorted out a lot of the stupid in California. This area now has about three times what the summer population ran, pre-Day. You had to be bright, or prepared, or incredibly lucky to get out of the populated areas before the roads got jammed, the water stopped, and the fires started. But even sorted out, you have to remember half of them are still below average,” Vic said, and smiled like it was a private little joke.
“Which were you?” Eileen asked, very directly, and sipped her cider. It wasn’t exactly hard, but it had just enough bite to be good without any fizz.
“I was smart enough to already be here, and not need to run.”