Laura Lioness's hips hurt. She wondered if she needed hip replacement. She limped to her dresser and pulled out one dark chocolate Ferrero Rocher, unwrapped the foil around it with fumbling, unsteady fingers, and popped the crunchy dark ball in her mouth. For a moment, as the dark chocolate taste hit her tongue, she forgot that she felt like she was an old woman, even though she was only in her fifties.
She was living like Ivan Ilyich from Tolstoy's tale. She lived a life she didn't like, and cantankerousness was a constant companion. It had created several ulcers in her, and multiple warts and blisters treated her skin as their abode.
Her pale skin was wrinkled like ancient papyrus ahead of its time, and her hair was mostly silver and unkempt. She groaned as she moved a tad more than she intended, and felt her shoulder spasm mildly. Her bastard of a husband was dead, and she had never been gladder when they announced it in the hospital. He was the source of too many of her ills and troubles, so from her vantage point it was good riddance to bad rubbish. She had more than paid the price for her mistake as an adoring teenage bride. She mentally thanked the trucker who had lost control of his truck and squashed her husband to a neat paste of metal, blood, bone and gristle. They had insurance, so she got the money for her old Volvo that he had been driving at the time.
She scanned the local paper. It was a squalid rag, if ever there was one, but it was a familiar squalid rag. It didn't make her feel out of sorts like those i-this or i-that kind of things that people used nowadays to read. She was reading something about the local civic society meeting, and remarking to herself that there was nothing civil about the civic society. Her alliterative rumination was interrupted when a tiny advertisement caught her eyes that read thus.
'Madame Juliette's Magic Unguent for extreme healing purposes.
An unguent with rare healing properties is available for sale at Madame Juliette's. Due to an extremely high sales demand, and the high cost of preparation, unguent prices are going up by the hour. If you are interested in rapid healing, or would like to improve the quality of your daily living, please call xxx-xxx-xxxx for more details.'
That was it. There was no address to go to. Nothing else. She pondered it. She had enough savings now. The life insurance from that dead asshole was also hers now. At least the asshole was enough of an asshole that he had few other people close to him . So his will had been in her favor, and his life insurance policy meant that she never had to lift a finger to work again. She mentally thanked the trucker again.
She picked up the phone with trembling fingers, after having put it off for a good twenty minutes. She always felt trepidation when making phone calls, but now she felt double trepidation, because this phone call also promised a salve for her hurting body and hope meant trepidation, for she had forgotten how to hope for so many years.
She called the number on her old maroon rotary phone, allowing the rhythmic zing of the circular plate that swung back into place to soothe her nerves. There were three rings, and then someone answered.
"Madame Juliette's," a female voice said, "this is Julia speaking, how may I help you, and whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"My name is Laura Lioness," she said, "I just saw the advertisement about your magic unguent…"
Julia was ruder than a person selling things should be. She cut her off.
"What do you want it for, madame?" she said.
Laura mentally cursed the girl. She must be one of those young things who was never taught the basics of polite conversation.
"Healing of course, Julia," she said, sighing audibly in order to give the young thing a message. "What else would I want it for?"
The girl appeared to be humoring her. She chuckled at the other end of the phone.
"Of course, madame, but what sort of healing?"
Where do you want me to start.
"I have bad hips, a few ulcers, it hurts when I walk all over my body, and I have very low energy levels, for starters," Laura told her, sighing again.
"I am sorry to hear that madame," Julia said.
Laura decided that this child must be blonde and buxom, from how she managed her wits.
"I want to purchase your unguent and try it, girl," Laura said. "Can you tell me how I can do that?"
"Do you have a pen, madame?" Julia said.
"One minute please," Laura said.
She placed the receiver on her dusty and trusty California teak tea table, and dusted it for a few seconds. The girl must be taught manners, so keeping her waiting was a good way to do it. Then she picked up a blue Parker pen from her late husband the asshole's pen holder. Almost as ostentatious as every last one of his farts.
She picked up the receiver and asked the girl to tell her. She was given an address that was some fifty miles distant at least, from the zip code. She sighed as she thanked the girl and hung up.
She had a neat stack of fifty dollar bills on her, and she knew she'd have to pay a taxicab at least some hundred dollars for that distance in these parts. She called her regular taxicab place and the cab hustler as she called him was rude as usual and took her order and hung up before she could say thank you. She firmed up her 'men are assholes' conviction just a tad more.
She creaked across her living room and picked her apartment key and her purse off the mantelpiece and stepped outdoors, locking it behind her. The taxicab usually took ten minutes to show up, and it was an elevator ride to the foyer of their apartment complex. The bellhop was stone faced after he gave a token nod of his head. He had a baby face, and olive skin and dark hair. Italian, she thought to herself.
The concierge Louis Philippe was talking on the phone and pretended to not see her. She was glad for that, for she had planned on pretending not to see him. She was also mildly miffed that he had implemented his planned pretending before she could, so he gained the upper hand of the ignorer and she became the ignored. It was so much nicer when it was the other way around.
The Ramsay kids from the same floor she stayed on came in. They were handsome lads who towered over her. They were in their early twenties, and did a lot of adventure sports. Both had brown hair, bronzed skin, chiseled jaws that reminded her of Charlton Heston and Burt Reynolds. They were laughing and smirking as always, and pretended not to see her also. She wondered if she had died for a moment, with all the pretending to not see her.
After waiting seven minutes outdoors, she wondered whether she should go and use the bathroom and risk the taxicab guy raising a ruckus in her foyer. She decided against it. She could hold her water better than most her age. So she told herself.
The off white colored cab showed up ahead of schedule, and she congratulated herself on her decision to stay put. The driver was an old timer given to garrulity and had uneven patches of hair that together gave the appearance of a coherent white beard, unless you peered closely and noticed that it was the human chin hair equivalent of a patchwork quilt. He hadn't had his teeth done since the Nixon era, and wasn't shy to share his dental fortunes with her.
The hour long ride to Madame Juliette's seemed twice as long because of her complaining bladder and the old timers fixation on the high point of his life, which had been when he fought in Korea and saved his corporal's life in the process. He made her nervous each time he turned over his shoulder to make eye contact, while he was still doing a lethal sixty five. She wondered a couple of times whether that was all for the better. If so he should probably accelerate to eighty five, so that a crash would kill them without leaving room for life as a vegetable.
Her dark thoughts were interrupted when they entered the vicinity of Madame Juliette's place, and she started looking forward to magic healing in her life instead of Stygian depths that she had so recently mentally channeled. After they went through several winding lanes in what seemed to be a residential neighborhood that looked like any other in the heartland of America, she espied a board that had 'Madame Juliette's' written on it in faded black letters on an orange colored board, with the image of a phoenix rising from ashes in the same black paint right under the name. It wasn't the most pleasant choice of colors, but the metaphor of the phoenix was welcome enough, and Laura welcomed it as she would any magic unguent.
The gabby old timer almost overshot the shop and a frantic couple of reminders from Laura had worked his leg muscles on his car brake. She asked to him to await her return, since she was purchasing something and would be back soon. He gave her a gruff amorphous wall of sound in response that generally hinted at being a yes.
She stood under the odd little shop sign for a few moments, and the swung the oak door that was some eight feet high and colored with bright new gray paint open. The hinges had been oiled recently, and it noiselessly swung open. A small mesh door was inside it, probably to screen out mosquitoes and their ilk. The mesh door swung inward. So she now pushed it where she had hitherto pulled its predecessor.
The mesh door was connected to one of those shop chiming mechanisms that shops often use to indicate to their sales people that a customer has arrived. Laura wondered about it just then. Shops that used it usually didn't have enough business that they warranted it, because the sales people would be unoccupied anyway to attend to the first farm animal that waltzed in there. At least in her opinion this was how it was.
A girl in her twenties perked up and looked in her direction. She had gold hair that fell to her ample and wide bosom, and Laura mentally high-fived herself. Two out of two. The girl looked porky. Laura wondered if she ate pig for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Even her nose was slightly upturned, so you could see the nostrils.
"Good morning, madame," she said, across the room, sitting behind something that could pass for a counter. "Can I be of assistance?"
People who want to be of assistance usually come up to you to help you, little girl, Laura thought, shaking her head. She walked across the room to the counter.
"My name is Laura Lioness, I believe you are Julia?" she said.
Of course it was Julia. Porky Pig's little sister sounded exactly like she had on the phone.
"Oh that's right, you wanted the magic unguent for multiple age related issues," she said, looking very important as she looked down, put on some horn rimmed spectacles, and looked into a register with yellow pages that were also being yellowed.
Laura clucked out a yes from her throat.
"Please wait here, madame," Julia said, and turned around wiggling her fleshy buttocks off into another adjoining room. There were whispers in which Laura couldn't make out a word, and then a woman in her thirties appeared. She was a tall woman, and stood a good head over Laura. She was impeccably dressed, and had honey blonde hair that was oiled and tied up into a neat bun that adorned the crown of her head. The top of her bun must have easily towered at six and half feet. She had sharp, aquiline features, and lovely dark blue eyes, and she was lot better behaved than Julia the pig.
"I am Madame Juliette, madame," she said, smiling at Laura, and making her feel at home instantly. "Let me talk to you about the magic unguent. Would you like some water before we start?"
"That would be wonderful," Laura said, "but before that, may I please use your restroom?"
Her bladder could take no more. The nice lady nodded, and asked Julia to take Laura to the restroom. When she was done, having gone from sensations of extreme discomfort to one of absolute joy, she joined Madame Juliette at the counter again.
"The magic unguent is expensive, madame,"she said. "While it may not appear to be the case, given as you are the only customer here right now, there is intense competition to secure the little stock that we do have. That said, I am sure you'll find our prices reasonable."
Laura mentally wondered what she meant by reasonable. The woman didn't give her a chance to voice her question however.
"I'll run you by the process before we discuss the price, however," she said. "Would that be agreeable to you?"
"That sounds very reasonable," Laura said, meaning it.
"The magic unguent is an extract from several rare herbs taken from remote peaks of the Andes, the Caucasus, the Himalayas and so many other remote gardens that there is nothing comparable to it for uniqueness on this planet," Madame Juliette said. "This may sound like a clever little sales pitch to you, madame, but the truth of the matter is that this unguent has cost more life and limb than I would want to burden you with the knowledge of. There is one ingredient in it, however, that must be supplied to it for efficacy."
She paused, and Laura understood a pause for effect when she saw one. She waited.
"It is the imagination of the person using it," she said. "Without your imagination, this unguent will not work."
Laura nodded, but she did not really understand. Madame Juliette was offering her an extremely rare and extremely expensive salve, but it would work only if she used her imagination. This wasn't entirely something that she understood.
"Can you please explain how this works?" she said. "How does my imagination play a role in this unguent?"
Madame looked down at her with her lovely dark blue eyes, and a smile broke out on her long, oval face.
"You must imagine your ideal fantasy body, as you would want it, in as vivid detail as possible, as the unguent is applied to you," she said.
"This must be some sort of a joke, Madame," Laura said. "Either an unguent works, or it doesn't!"
"Oh, it works beyond your wildest dreams, madame," Madame Juliette said, "but with faith as a mustard seed."
Laura rolled her eyes, but she knew that she had little to lose other than lots of money. She wanted respite from pain, and if a neat little piece of imagination on her part was part of this tall lady's quirky business method, then so be it.
"Very well then," she said, "I am going to try to picture myself as I want to be, with as much detail as possible. I want to try the magic unguent. Now the price."
"That is part of the price. You must have faith in being able to handle the price," Madame Juliette said, smiling a smile that boasted some hidden treasure of private knowledge.
"Can you tell me how many dollars I must put aside for this unguent - that would help?" Laura said.
The tall and lovely shop owner shook her dark blonde head and looked at her again, concern showing in her deep blue eyes.
"Ma'am, faith is an absolute must in this entire endeavor," she said. "If you give us your faith, we promise you healing."
"Faith," Laura repeated. "I have tons of faith, Madame."
She didn't really know what the payment would be, but she mentally decided that anything more than a thousand dollars for a magical unguent would be unreasonable. She committed herself mentally to believing that she would feel a lot healthier after the magic unguent was applied to her.
Madame Juliette asked her to accompany her into another room, and
from the main area of the shop, they went into an adjoining room
that was just as large, and which had a large wooden table with
clean cream colored rubber mat that was fixed onto it.
"Ma'am, we are going to ask you now to lie down on the table after removing all your clothes," Madame Juliette said in a matter of fact way.
Laura glared at her, and fluster came through as she spoke. She'd just been told to go birthday suit in front of two strangers, and she wasn't about to show them her ugly body. If they saw how her breasts sagged, or what state of decay had set into her nipples, she knew that somehow their respect would slip several notches. So she firmly refused to strip naked.
"This is highly irregular, Madame," was all she could bring herself to say, while turning as red in the face as her sickly pallor allowed her to turn, and glaring at Madame Juliette herself, although the glaring took more of her guts than she imagined it should take.
Madame Juliette didn't fight back, but simply shushed her in a gentle voice, and softly said, "Nous avons parlé de la foi, madame; avoir la foi dans Madame Juliette." (We spoke about faith, Madame; have faith in Madame Juliette.)
Her voice was very soothing, as though she knew precisely how to deal with ladies of Laura's ilk. Laura felt herself relaxing at the sound of Madame's voice, and wondered that this was a small price to pay for what she would attain. Still, she was talking about herself in third person, like Julius Caesar. That worried Laura a tad.
Laura dallied for a minute more, and then started stripping. She tossed off her flowery old woman gown that had an abundance of lovely green peacocks sewn into a brown forest. She wriggled out of her black petticoat that people who were raised like her still wore under their gowns. She hesitated only a moment while standing in front of the redoubtable Madame Juliette and the porcine blonde in her white bra and panties, wondering how they would judge her for the shape of her breasts and for the state of her vagina which she had ensured was mostly free of sand and hair. She decided to march on along this strange road she had chosen to take, hoping against hope that her shaming was not for naught.
There was little reaction from her two companions, who were apparently used to seeing strangers strip in front of them. They presently asked her to lie down on the table, now that she was stark naked. She did so immediately, preferring any form of action to standing still in front of them in her air clad glory.
Madame Juliette appeared to give her a clinical once over with her eyes washing over her body from head to toe. Laura was extremely self conscious during the inspection, and suppressed automatic urges to cross her hands across her chest, and to subtly protect her modesty by placing her palm in front of her vagina. It was pointless right now, and some higher intelligence made her force herself to stay still, with her arms by her, enduring the clinical examination she appeared to be undergoing.
Madame Juliette asked Julia to fetch something or someone. Laura prayed that it was a something and not a someone. Her prayer was in vain. A burly woman strode into the room. She stood almost as tall as the Madame, and had long golden blonde hair and an oval face. She was hefty woman, and it was clear she pumped weights. She reminded her of those muscular women she saw in Michelangelo's paintings, working class Tuscan women who served as the seeds for the sculptor's inspiration.
Laura felt panic coursing through her. She covered her breasts with one hand and her sex with another, and shot an alarmed look at Madame Juliette. Somehow it didn't seem appropriate that this great beast of a woman saw her naked.
"Don't worry, madame," Madame Juliette said, "I understand your modesty in front of my sister Julianna, but you must understand she is just as professional as I am in what she does. Today she is going to be one applying the unguent to you, while Julia and I provide more auxiliary services."
Laura looked at Madame Juliette for reassurance, and found an abundance of it in her dark blue eyes that had a perpetual lilt in them. She calmed down, and allowed her arms to be unfolded by the madame and placed by her sides.
Julianna had powerful hands, as though she tossed boulders all day long. She walked around the table and stood behind Laura's head, and gripped her shoulders. Madame Juliette stood in front of her and gripped her feet. They gave her a good simultaneous tug, so that her torso got a great big stretch. She gasped, but the action somehow grounded her in her body and all her silly little mental ruminations dropped away.
Julia, the slice of ham, emerged from somewhere. Laura realized she had stepped out and come back, and was carrying a framed image in her hands. She looked at it.
It was a strikingly beautiful woman, painted in the manner of the classical French painters such as Ingres. The woman was standing, with the left arm akimbo and the right arm hanging down by her side. She was buxom, and was dressed in a traditional French gown, and wore great masses of pearls around her neck. Her coiffure was a bun on the top of her head, and the remaining volume of her hair had been made into tiny rolls that hung around her neck. Her hair itself appeared to be gold gray, and Laura guessed that it was golden, but it had been powdered according to the fashion of those times.
She gasped as she realized whose face it was. It was Madame Juliette's face. She felt Julianna's powerful hands kneading the outer sides of her neck, and then moving down her shoulders, and then compressing and crushing her breasts, and she gasped again from the pleasure of the massage. Madame Juliette held on to her feet and gave her a quizzical look with her startling blue eyes.
"That's you in the painting," she said. "Why is ham- I mean Julia showing it to me?"
"It is something to consider," Madame Juliette said.
Laura noticed that her English had a stronger French accent than she had hitherto observed.
"When you can cause age to retrogress, wonderful things are possible," she continued.
"Are you implying that it is you in that painting?" Laura asked, wondering why her question sounded so silly.
"I am not implying anything, madame," Madame Juliette retorted. "What I want you to do though is this. Do not think of this image? Absolutely do not. Julia will continue to hold it up for display, but you must not think of it. Close your eyes if that will help. Start visualizing the form that you want, but do not think of this painting."
Laura didn't argue. This was a strange session anyway. She closed her eyes, and started picturing herself at her most beautiful. Then she wondered to herself, if anything she imagined was possible, then she could imagine herself to be even more splendid than she was when she was young, which wasn't very. She mentally thumbed through a catalog of facial features and tried settling on a face, but Madame Juliette in that damned painting kept coming into her mind. She pictured all sorts of bodily voluptuousnesses, and wondered when a woman would be considered too sexy. She pictured herself with large breasts, a slender waist, powerful and shapely buttocks, and a robust body.
Julianna's hands could be felt moving down her body, squeezing her torso, and making her gasp. Julianna pressed down on her belly as if she meant to squeeze out all air in there. Then she smoothed down her torso, and held her hurting hips, and squeezed them. Laura cried out. It was mixture of enormous relief and a gentle pain.
"Are you okay, madame?" she heard Madame Juliette say.
"Yes," she managed to gasp, enjoying the sheer pleasure of a good massage, while trying to hold on mentally to her fantasy of how she should be.
Julia started saying something in French, that sounded like an incantation. Laura tried to forget Madame Juliette in that old French style painting, but she couldn't, and her face and form kept coming back to her mind.
Madame Juliette joined in the French chant, and Laura realized that they were just saying swear words in French again and again. That was very, very odd. Still, she tried continuing her visualization. Julianna inserted her great, fat fingers inside Laura's sex, and Laura gasped. That was very unexpected. She resisted, and gave Julianna's fingers a squeeze with her cunt. The powerful fingers just pushed back harder and rubbed her inside. She moaned softly as she felt a broad stroke against her clitoris.
Laura continued trying to picture her fantasy self, and kept getting distracted by the image of Madame Juliette. She heard the chant pick up pace, and Madame Juliette barked orders to the two women.
She opened her eyes and took a peek, as Julianna left for a minute and vanished somewhere. She returned with a black bottle that had something glowing inside it. Laura looked at it with greed in her heart. That must be the magic unguent that she would paying a pretty penny for.
Madame Juliette and porky Julia continued their chant of French cuss words. She smelt something that was remarkably like freshly baked brownies when Julianna carefully pulled the top off the bottle. Whatever was inside cast an eerie blue glow on the bridge of Julianna's face.
"Close your eyes presently, madame," Madame Juliette barked, in the tone that a headmistress would use on a naughty schoolgirl. Laura was miffed, but she obeyed. She would have words with this great French dame after the whole ceremony.
She felt Julianna's muscular palms slapping something that was both hot and cool, like Vicks Vaporub, on her inner thighs. For some reason the gesture was incredibly erotic, and she felt her horniness rocket into the stratosphere. The unguent, as it were, was spread all over her pubic region, in great strokes. Julianna, who wasn't shy about plunging her fingers into another woman's cunt, did so once more. She felt multiple fingers work rapidly along her labia, as though they were attempting to shape her pussy somehow. Then they went further in, and lathered the dripping insides of her sex with the hot and cold unguent. She felt an ice cold fire raging inside her tunnel, and gasped. It was as if an icy cock that was full of steaming lava in its center was plunged into her cunt.
The sensations were overwhelming, and she lost control of her body, and felt enormous waves of pleasure swamp her body and mind. She rode the high of those waves for an indeterminate length of time. Then she realized that she was back on terra firma.
She was back on the table where she had laid down some time ago. Madame Juliette was still holding her feet, but the French curse words chant had stopped. There was some light chit chat among the three women in French, and she felt Julianna's massive hands kneading this or that part of her body, but it appeared that the unguent had been applied however it was meant to be applied.
She opened her eyes.
"Madame?" she said, unsure.
Her voice sounded different.
"You can come back to us, madame," Madame Juliette said, smiling at her, and letting go of her feet. "It is done."
Laura felt her own body. She felt robust and healthy. She moved, and sat up. Her hips no longer hurt. A good massage will do that for a short time, she told herself.
"Ma'am, please brace yourself," Madame Juliette said.
Laura looked at her quizzically, but nodded nonetheless.
Porky Julia stepped out of the room, her fleshy buttocks doing a rhythmic dance as she went. She waddled back in, carrying a large mirror along with her.
"Is this to your satisfaction, madame?" Madame Juliette said, as Julia placed the mirror on the wall opposite Laura.
Laura gasped. She was looking at a stranger in the mirror.
The girl was in her twenties, at most. She could easily have been a teenager even. She had had ginger hair in the prime of her youth, but she had always wanted black hair. She had raven tresses now, and she loved the feel of them. They were long, and were shining as though almond or coconut oil had been massaged into them, and they fell past her breasts to her waist. Her face was more symmetric than her own had been, and it was astonishingly beautiful. She had her own hazel eyes, but they were brimming with vitality. Her skin was supple and resilient, and glowed a shade between porcelain and olive. Her complaint even in the prime of her youth had been that she had been cursed with infernal paleness, as though the ice Gods lived under her skin. Now she saw that the addition of some fire to her complexion maintained the most beautiful aspects of that paleness, while making her full of life at the same time.
She had enormous breasts. She laughed in sheer delight when she saw them. They were far more gorgeous than she had pictured in her mind's eye. They ached with the impatience of the youth that she now possessed, as if they wanted some horny man's mouth to suck them for succor. They dangled off her like agents provocateur, and she kneaded and stroked them, and cupped them many times. They were perfectly rounded and pendulous to the right degree, and their full swell was a marvel to watch.
She studied her torso, and noticed her slender waist, and her healthy, voluptuous yet muscular hips. She turned around and studied her buttocks, glancing over her shoulder. They were magnificent as well. Great glutes that threatened to steatopygia, but only to the extent that they accomplished their sheer bodacious designs.
Laura twirled around in front of the mirror, and laughed, looking at herself. She was lovely, she was magnificent, and she was ravishing. She felt great stirrings of passion within her breast, and she played with her own naked body as she stared at herself.
She studied her sex, and noticed how fresh and young her cunt had become. The lips of her pussy were pink and throbbing, and full of the juice of life. There was a thick nest of hair in her pubic triangle that she had not had before, and it was the same raven color as her tresses. She inserted a couple of fingers inside herself, and wondered at how heated her body felt, without giving her discomfort.
There were great waves of energy that were inside her and around her. She wondered how this came to be, and laughed in contented delight some more. After she had explored her new body to her heart's content, she remembered that she had an audience of three, and she returned her attention to them.
"Ma'am appreciates the change," Madame Juliette said, clearly having mastered the art of understatement.
"I love it!" Laura said, still getting used to the sound of her youthful voice.
She dreaded the payment discussion, and hoped that Madame Juliette would broach it instead of herself.
Julianna, the great, big oak of a woman stood to one side, and was chatting steadily in French with porky Julia, as though Laura's great transformation were old news, and they had business to attend to.
"Please accompany me," Madame Juliette said, gesturing with her finger, and leading her to the outer room where they had a counter. She stepped behind the counter, and indicated that Laura should step in front of it.
"The payment we usually take is reasonable," she said, "and I trust that given how you have turned out, you will agree it is well worth it."
Laura nodded. She remembered that she had thick, black eyelashes now, as if she had extensions in them - only hers were natural. It was as though she had tapped into the legendary fountain of youth.
"The recompense for our services is not monetary," Madame Juliette said. "It is service based."
"Er - I do not understand," Laura said, wondering what that meant. Did that mean she should work as Madame Juliette's employee for some length of time?
Madame Juliette produced a wad of paperwork that was as thick as Laura's thumb was. She showed her what it was. The page on top had the title: 'Standard magic unguent package contract'.
Laura wondered whether she should contact her attorney, so that she could advise her while signing any contract. Then she realized that her attorney wouldn't recognize her.
"You must not worry yourself, madame," Madame Juliette said, smiling her warm smile that still had the power to soothe, "the contract is about something grand, something that most people would partake in if they were given the opportunity."