Chapter 189: At Cross PurposesAlexandra Erin on November 20, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Coach Callahan Keeps Her Cool
Not everyone understood my decision to keep associating with Acantha outside of class.
By that I mean, nobody I tried to explain it to understood why I’d want to hang out with her outside of class, knowing that she’d tricked me and suspecting that she was a corporate thief.
By that, I pretty much just mean Coach Callahan, who asked me at the end of class how Acantha had taken the news that I wouldn’t be helping with the mockbox project anymore.
“She took it pretty well, I guess?” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t there when she found out…”
“You didn’t tell her last week?”
“No, I did let her know that you were suspicious of her, like you wanted, but she mostly guessed that… she found out the other part from your memo,” I said.
“Funny, I’ve never heard them called that before,” she said. “Did she say anything to you?”
“Nothing bad,” I said. “She actually invited me to join some kind of salon thing she’s going to be holding, for applied enchantment students who’ve caught her eye or whatever.”
“And what she’d do when you turned her down?”
“Actually… I’m pretty sure I’m going to say yes,” I said. I’d been about to say that as long as the schedule worked for me, I’d at least check it out, but I could tell I’d said or done the wrong thing. Either the atmosphere in the room had just changed, or I’d completely failed to notice how chilly it was.
“Just because we shared a moment during our last heart-to-heart doesn’t mean I’m going to go all motherly on you now,” Coach Callahan said with what seemed like an ominous amount of calm. “If I have a single maternal bone in my body, it’s just a shard of someone’s mother who died messily and with great force. I don’t give a fuck what you do with your life… but I give a very small fuck that I did something to protect you and you’re throwing it away. The good thing is that every time you do this… and I know damn well this won’t be the last time… the fuck will get smaller and smaller until it isn’t any kind of a fuck at all. And in that lack of fucks, Frybaby, I will find my freedom.”
“So you’re not done protecting me, then,” was probably the worst possible thing I could have said… and so amazingly, I didn’t. It popped into my head, but it didn’t go any further.
It seemed worth noting. Maybe that was a selfishly utilitarian thought, the exact kind of thing that Acantha… and Coach Callahan herself… would have encouraged me to think. But… still…
It wasn’t a good moment to get lost in thought, though. I could tell Coach Callahan was pissed, but not in her usual way. Her normal anger was expressive… rage as content and violence as punctuation. This was different. She was almost elven in her stillness, and that was scary.
I had a feeling that if I didn’t figure out what was eating her and how to make it right, there was a chance I’d see what she looked like when she was really mad.
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell Acantha that you were kicking me off the project,” I said quickly, guessing that was what she was talking about. “I just thought it would be safer the less I said about the whole thing.”
“And you’re probably right about that. I don’t care how the hell she found out… the whole point of firing you from the project was to keep you out of the crossfire,” Coach Callahan said. “So then you go and stroll right back into it? What were you thinking?”
“That I’m not going to be in a crossfire if I’m not between the two of you?” I said. “You’re the one who pointed out she could do more to help me.”
“And you said you didn’t want her kind of help!” the coach said.
“Yeah, well… I still have class with her. And I started talking to her again…”
“And you went all wibbly, didn’t you?” Coach Callahan said. “You know, I can’t figure out what the fuck your type is, but I know it when you see it.”
“It’s not like that!” I said.
She didn’t have to give me a pointed look. She just stood there, saying nothing.
“It might be a little bit like that,” I said. “I mean, I haven’t really entertained any thoughts of…”
“I don’t need to know what you haven’t entertained thoughts of,” she said.
“She is fascinating,” I said. “And she seems so awkward and lonely.”
“If you think that means she’s an honest and hardworking citizen-subject, you haven’t known as many rogues as I have,” she said. “Awkward and lonely is just the type to end up slinking around in shadows.”
“Well, no, I don’t think that,” I said. “I think it means she’s awkward and lonely.”
“And that’s enough for you to see her as some kind of a kindred spirit?” Coach Callahan said.
“It’s enough for me to think she’s awkward and lonely,” I said. “I know that doesn’t explain anything…”
“Good, because I was starting to wonder if you knew you were saying the same thing every time.”
“I just feel… drawn to her,” I said.
“Yeah, I got that. But still… remember the part where you didn’t want her help? I actually liked that part. I almost admired it.”
“Okay, yes, I said that… but I’ve realized I don’t really know what her kind of help would be, and whether it would really be so bad to take it,” I said. “Her perspective on everything, it’s so different than anything I expected or anything I’ve ever considered. And, you know… I’ve never really sat down and thought about what I actually believe in. I just have a buttload of crap I was given by my grandmother. Even the stuff that she would be horrified by… I don’t know how much of that I actually believe in and how much is just me going in the opposite direction because it’s the opposite, or because I glommed onto someone else who had what sounded like a better idea…”
I hadn’t thought any of this through before I opened my mouth, so I was kind of finding out what I thought at the time she was. Amazingly, it all made a lot of sense to me.
It seemed to make sense to her, too, because I could see her relaxing… see the tension draining out from behind her calm facade.
“Look… I’m the last person you should come to for answers about ethics,” she said. “And I’m the last person who would try to tell you anything about ethics. My ethics are the same as my fighting style: whatever works. If you tried to kill everyone you don’t like, sooner or later you’d either encounter someone you can’t kill or you’d give everyone else an incentive to mob up and kill you first. Killing everyone doesn’t work? Find something else. Okay, so I did tell you something about ethics.”
“Killing everyone isn’t the option I’d start with,” I said.
“Well, we all have our grandmothers,” she said. “Figuratively speaking. My point is, I don’t actually give a twisted flaming shit about ethics, but I fully fucking applaud you deciding to figure out what you want from life and figuring out how to get it. Most people wait until their mid-twenties to even start asking why they believe the things they do and do the things they do, if they ever start.”
“I still don’t think you need that angular bitch to show you the way,” Coach Callahan said. “Whether you want to admit it or not, part of the reason you’re clinging to her is that you can’t figure her out. You don’t know where she stands. Figuring your own shit out is hard enough on its own, but it’s necessary… trying to figure out someone else’s at the same time? Not necessary, and it’s going to make it harder.”
“You’re going to tell me there’s no value in understanding other people?” I asked.
“‘Know your enemy’ is great advice,” she said. “But so’s ‘pick your battles’. You don’t need to know Acantha if you’re not going to fuck with her in the first place.”
“I could avoid Acantha here… even drop out of her class… and still end up dealing with her, or people like her, later on,” I said. “She’s part of a side of the world I’ve never given much thought before. Even if she’s a completely amoral cutthroat bitch… isn’t it better to learn how to deal with amoral cutthroat bitches now, while it’s relatively safe? I mean, that’s the same basic idea as your class: figure out how to handle life-and-death situations when it isn’t really life-and-death.”
Amaranth might have had something to say about using the word “bitch” to refer to another woman in a non-recreational sense, and her influence was enough that I cringed at the sound of the word in my mouth, but that was Coach Callahan’s influence.
“Can’t argue with that,” she said. “Well, more like I’m already past the point I care to argue any of this. I’m not going to pretend I don’t care about your well-being after putting my ass on the line for you, but I meant what I said about the fucks I give. There’s a limit to everything, and with most things, it’s not a nice, clear line. It’s more like ice on a pond: you know if you stack too much weight on it for too long, it’s going to give way, but the only way to find out is to keep piling on until it breaks.”
“Noted,” I said.
“And just so you know, if she screws you over completely… or worse… I’m not going to do shit about it,” she said. “You had your chance to get away cleanly and you went back. Whatever happens next? That’s entirely on you.”
I didn’t think she meant that last bit as encouragement, but I couldn’t help taking it tht way all the same. Whatever happened next, it would be because of my decision. That was a little scary to think about, but exciting, too.
Though maybe there was a lesson there. Maybe something couldn’t be really exciting if it wasn’t also a little scary.
Or maybe I was justifying something risky to myself… but, like I’d said, it would be a controlled risk. The worst thing that could happen was I would get in, decide that I really didn’t want to associate with Acantha or learn her ways of doing things, and get out.
The way my life had been tending towards anticlimax lately, it probably wouldn’t even be that bad.