272: Tea For Two

on August 23, 2008 in Book 10

In Which The Best Things In Life Are Free

Amaranth still seemed to be a bit in shock… I think we were all more than a little bit overwhelmed, Steff and I by having come so close to looking upon the face of a goddess and Amaranth by what she’d heard.

With nothing else to do, we headed straight across the hall and knocked on Hazel’s door. Two opened it, and the required greetings were exchanged. She and Hazel had moved the tea table away from the wall, pulled all but two of the chairs away, and laid out a pretty impressive spread of little snacks.

“Where’s Miss Delia Daella, then?” Hazel asked. “Isn’t this her party?”

“She’s, uh, not feeling too well,” Steff said.

“Ah, well,” Hazel said. “Maybe it’s for the better. It turns out that most of what I have, she can‘t eat, anyway.”

“Hazel, you don’t mind if Two takes some tea and a plate to Dee, do you?” Amaranth asked.

“No, if there’s anybody on this floor I’d trust with Honey’s good saucers, it’s our Two,” Hazel said. “D’you mind, Two?”

“No, I don’t mind,” Two said.

She gathered up a couple of different sweets, some cubes of cheese, and a little bit of cold chicken on a plate, then poured a cup of tea with a lot of milk and no sugar.

“I don’t know how she likes her tea, but my friend Dee likes milk,” Two said.

Steff snickered, and Amaranth glared at her.

“Well, you make sure she knows there’s more of everything if she wants it,” Hazel said.

“Mack, baby, why don’t you help Two?” Amaranth said.

“It’s okay, I’ve got it,” Two said.

“But if one of you takes the plate, the other one could hold the saucer with both hands,” Amaranth said. “If this is Honey’s good china, we should be extra careful with it.”

“Right,” Two said. “I’ll carry both of them.”

“Well, Mack can keep you company,” Amaranth said. I looked at her incredulously… had she forgotten how big the hallway was? “She’s been missing you and she has some things she wants to tell you.”

“Oh, I’ve been missing you, too, Mack,” Two said.

My eyes probably bugged out of my skull at that. Was she seriously saying I should bring Two into the loop on the whole Mercy’s thing? Then Steff’s voice tickled my ear: “You’re supposed to apologize to her, doofus.”

Oh, yeah… I’d forgotten about that, somehow.

I got the door for Two on the way out and closed it behind us. She was taking tiny little steps, staring at the saucer with the tea out in front of her like she was afraid it was going to explode.

“Two… do you remember when I gave you some orders about the red envelopes?”

“Yes…” she said, not taking her eyes off the cup. There was a twinge of irritation or in her voice. I didn’t know if it was because I was distracting her from her task or because she resented the orders. I felt a stab of guilt at the latter possibility.

“Well, that was wrong of me,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” she agreed. She started to nod, then froze mid-motion, looking terrified. The tea had sloshed around the tiniest bit within the cup. She actually held her breath until it stopped moving.

“Two, you could let me carry the plate if you want,” I said. “Seriously, it will be alright.”

“No,” she said, giving the tiniest little shake of her head.

“Anyway, I’m sorry for giving you those orders,” I said.

“That’s okay, I forgive you.”

“And I order you to ignore them from now. If any more of those letters come, could you please give them to Amaranth?” I said. “She’s going to read them for me.”

“Okay,” she said. “Are you ever going to start picking up the mail yourself?”

“Oh… um… guess I’ve kind of been letting that slip my mind,” I said.

“It isn’t fair that I always have to do it,” she said. “I clean the room and fix your clothes and things for you. I think maybe you should pick up the mail every day.”

“Um, okay,” I said. “I’ll try to remember to start doing that.”

“Okay,” she said.

With Two’s baby-steps, we were still only halfway to Dee’s room at this point. The door opened and Dee stepped out. She was wearing a nightgown of very dark green.

“Hi, Dee!” Two called.

“Hello, Two,” Dee said. “Do you require assistance?”

“No,” Two said. “I’m bringing you some food and some tea.”

“That is very kind of you,” Dee said. She strode down the hall to meet us, and Two handed her the plate.

“I want to carry the saucer,” Two said. “My friend Hazel said I’m the only one she can trust to do it.”

Dee’s lips twisted slightly in amusement.

“I’m sure her trust is well-founded,” Dee said. She gave me the slightest of nods. “Please excuse us.”

They carried the dishes to her room, and then Two returned, carefully and quietly closing the door.

“She wants to sleep,” Two whispered. “But we left the snacks on her nightstand.”

“Did Dee… uh… did she say anything to you, Two?” I asked.

“Yes,” Two said.

“What did she say… if I can ask?” I asked.

“She said that she is glad I am her friend.”

“Oh,” I said, relieved.

“And that I should be careful around you because she would not like to see anything happen to me,” Two said.

“Oh, well… that’s actually probably a good idea,” I said.

“I always try to be careful,” she said. “But I’m not worried about you hurting me, Mack.”

“I wouldn’t do it on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen,” I said. She just shook her head.

We rejoined the others back in Hazel’s room.

“Did you guys have a nice talk?” Amaranth asked.

“Yes,” Two said. “And then I gave my friend Dee her food. She’s taking a nap now.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised if the poor dear hasn’t slept since Wednesday,” Amaranth said. “I can’t imagine how much more disruptive it would be for her in a holding cell than here in the dorms.”

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “In my experience, it’s the other way around.”

“Well, let’s not just stand around,” Hazel said. “Help yourselves. Miss Amaranth, there’s butter and mayonnaise in the watercress sandwiches, but I’ve saved you out some cucumber slices.”

“Oh, thank you,” Amaranth said.

We took our seats on the floor, except for Hazel and Two… Two looked ridiculous and awkward on the tiny chair, but she evidently preferred to sit “properly”. They had laid out an entire meal’s worth of food in tiny little pieces. I had no idea what watercress was, but I did know what mayonnaise was and I didn’t like it, so I avoided the little triangular sandwiches. I ate a lot of the things that Hazel called biscuits, and some toast with strawberry jelly. The tea was okay, as long as it had lots of sugar and milk.

“So, have you had any progress with your plans to do meals for the dorm?” Amaranth asked Hazel.

“Not yet,” Hazel said. “I tried to talking to that Rodrigues woman, but she says I have to go to my R.A., and Kiersta says she’s getting the run around when she goes asking after the funds.”

“She probably just doesn’t want to have to do the paperwork,” Steff said.

“I don’t know,” Hazel said. “I got the feeling she was giving me the brush-off at first, but now I think she’s starting to get a bug up her arse about this… she doesn’t like being put off and ignored any more than we do.”

“My heart weeps for her,” Steff said. “Really, it does.” She took a bite of one of the tiny sandwiches. “This is so good… you know, we sort of had dinner for breakfast this morning, and then we were going to have pancakes for an early lunch before we saw Dee on TV.”

“Dinner isn’t for breakfast,” Two said. “It’s for dinner.”

“Well… we got confused without our pseudowench to tell us that,” Steff said.

“Oh,” Two said. “Okay.”

“Not that we don’t appreciate the refreshments, but why aren’t you watching the news coverage, Hazel?” Amaranth asked

“Oh, it’s the same thing over and over,” Hazel said. “And since they don’t know anything, it’s all innuendo… I couldn’t take hearing one more time about how many demons dark elves don’t worship. I’ve been going out of my mind with boredom… the Underhall’s locked down for as long as the vultures are on campus, and Shiel‘s eyes are glued to that daft box.”

“Why is the Underhall locked down?” I asked.

“The dwarves probably think the whole thing was orchestrated as a ruse to get their secrets and expose them on national television,” Steff said.

“Steff!” Amaranth said.

“No, he… er… she’s pretty much got the shape of it,” Hazel said.

Amaranth and I both looked around uncomfortably.

“Steff is a girl,” Two said.

“Thank you, sweetie,” Steff said.

“You’re welcome,” Two said.

“Oh, right,” Hazel said. She cleared her throat. “Okay, then. No offense meant.”

The room fell into silence, except for the eerie ticking of the gnomes’ weird cabinet thing.

“So, baby… have you talked to Sooni yet today?”

“Um, I’ve been with you since we got back,” I said.

“Oh, right,” she said. “I just wondered what you were going to do about your plans.”

“I don‘t know… I doubt she‘ll want to cancel,” I said. “Right now, though, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to get to my afternoon classes.”

“Wow, you just won’t take any excuse to skip classes, will you?” Steff said

“Hey… I skipped a class this morning,” I said.

“Yeah, but you know the prof doesn’t grade on attendance and you have an excused grade,” she said. “It doesn’t count for anything if it doesn’t count for anything.”

“Steff, you aren’t supposed to talk Mack into skipping class,” Two said.

“Thank you, Two,” Amaranth said.

“I’m not, hon,” Steff said. “I’m just… observing.”

“I wanted to go to my morning classes but my friend Hazel ordered me not to,” Two said.

“Had to be done,” Hazel said as we all turned to look at her. “Those jackals would’ve eaten her alive, wouldn’t they? The rest of us can tell ‘em to sod off, but they would’ve got their hooks into her and not let go. Even if I told her to tell ‘em to sod off, they‘d just put that up for everyone to watch again and again.”

“I suppose,” Amaranth said.

“When I was in the group home, we weren’t supposed to talk to reporters,” Two said. “They had to talk to the press office.”

“Was Hearts of Clay under investigation for something, Two?” Amaranth asked.

“You’ll have to talk to the press office about that,” Two said.

“What are you going to do over the summer break, Two?” I asked. “I mean, do you have to go back there?”

“I think I would like to stay for the summer session,” she said. “Then I can stay here in the dorms.”

“How about you, baby?” Amaranth asked me.

“My plan… such as it is… was to just get a cheap apartment and a summer job in town,” I said. “I’ll probably have to get a job on campus next year, too… I’ve got enough to scrape by for right now, but it’s not going to last me four years.”

“On the bright side, you could get a huge settlement out of the school,” Steff said.

Hazel shook her head.

“What?” I asked.

“Money,” she said.

“What about it?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Just… money. My mother never thought much of money. I always thought that was because she’d grown up around it…”

She trailed off, looking down into her cup of tea. Her short little legs were swinging back and forth under the table.

“Miss Ruth always said that people with money are no better than people without it,” Two said. “But that we had to act like they were, because they had money.”

Hazel and Steff both snorted.

“From the mouths of golems, right?” Hazel said. “My mum wanted me to enjoy the simple things in life that don‘t cost anything… only it turns out you need money for those, too.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Amaranth said. “It doesn’t cost anything to get up in the morning and enjoy the sunrise, does it?”

“Doesn’t,” Hazel said. “Just a few hours’ sleep… which I suppose doesn’t matter, if you don’t have to get up and go to work at any particular time.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Amaranth said.

“The grass and the sun are free, but most folks don’t have time to lie around and enjoy them,” Hazel said. She sighed. “We used to live on a boat, you know… we were living free and easy, and we could barely afford it then.”

“Was Honey on the boat, too?” Amaranth asked with interest.

“Her?” Hazel said. “She would have been disinherited in a second if she had ever set foot on it. Her kind of folks look sideways at bridges. She got a tongue lashing if she spent too long in the bath.”

“Why didn’t they like boats?” Amaranth asked.

Hazel shrugged.

“Just the way it is,” she said. “Way it’s always been.”

“How exactly did you end up coming to school with Honey?” Steff asked. “I mean, it doesn’t really sound like your families got along.”

“Oh, er… it’s a charity thing,” Hazel said, fidgeting in her seat. It was an obvious lie, and one she wasn’t comfortable with. “They felt sorry for me, I guess, and I am related and all.”

“Ah,” Steff said.

There was a noise from outside, of wheels squeaking and pebbles crunching under wheels. Steff was closest to the window. She turned around and twitched the corner of the curtain aside.

“Hey, looks like the crowd’s thinning out a bit out there,” she said. “Maybe they finally squeezed all the blood they could from this stone?”

“Or something more interesting’s happened,” I said. “Too bad there’s not a TV in our lounge… we could see what’s going on.”

“Yeah, too bad,” Hazel said. “Weren’t you supposed to do something about that?”

“Kiersta said she’d get it replaced out of the housing fund and we could pay her back,” I said. “It’s not my fault she hasn’t done it yet.”

“Huh,” Amaranth said.

“Lazy,” Steff said.

“I wonder about that,” Amaranth said. “I really do.”

“Well,” I said, getting to my feet. “I’ve got some logic problems I need to work out, and then I need to talk to Sooni.”

“Yeah, I can’t do anything to improve on that sentence,” Steff said.


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8 Responses to “272: Tea For Two”

  1. S.White says:

    Poor Two, she is unable to fathom the glory that is Brinner.

    Current score: 1
    • Jechtael says:

      “Mack, why are there pancakes in the silverware drawer?”
      “I believe you mean, ‘why is there silverware in the pancake drawer?'”
      “I think you are mistaken.”

      Current score: 9
  2. pedestrian says:

    “In my experience, it’s the other way around.”

    A truly clever twist of phrase.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    It seems that Honey is deliberately being an unsympathetic character but A.E. has been leaving tantalizing hints that there is a missing backstory to come. That under different circumstances Honey would be a more pleasant person to know.

    I would guess that Honey got herself mixed up in serious trouble back home. And that she is on parole to attend college and must avoid getting into any further trouble or she gets voided to face serious penalties. If this is true, it explains why she panics when there is any chance of a confrontation with authority.

    Whether Hazel is a co-parolee or paid companion/chaperone/jailer, I haven’t figured out yet.

    Current score: 0
  4. Pamela says:

    Speaking of Two… you know you’ve been reading a lot of ToMU when your son comes in, says, “Good morning, Momma,” and you reply, “good morning, Two… uh… Thomas.”

    Current score: 7
    • C says:

      Shit like that is enough to give a child a minority complex.

      Current score: 5
  5. kekekeke says:

    ‘Mom why did you call me Two?’

    ‘YOU ARE MY SECOND CHILD, BACK TO THE BASEMENT WITH YOU!’

    Current score: 9