294: On The Nose

on October 8, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Dee Holds Back

I was kind of at a loose end after Feejee left, and feeling a vague sort of discontent with the confines of my room. The problem was, there wasn’t really anywhere else I wanted to be, either. I thought about going back to my hand mirror, but the shine was off of the new toy for the moment and I wasn’t in the mood to write. I could have just gone and taken my bath, but… well…

I didn’t want to avoid Feejee, but neither was I in any hurry to turn around and have another conversation with her right away… I could just imagine how awkward that would be, especially as we’d have to guard our words in the bathroom. We couldn’t even talk about what we weren’t talking about.

Ian still wasn’t in range of his mirror, Amaranth was gone, Two was slinging burgers, and Steff was wrapped up in a game in a room where I wasn’t welcome. Dee was keeping her distance… and honestly, as much as I liked Dee, it was hard to imagine just hanging out with her.

Maybe that was something I needed to work on? I “styled myself her friend”, as she would put it… I relied on her when I had a crisis or needed something, and I did my best to reach out to her when she was having one, and we tried to include her in things. I’d never just sat down and talked to her, though, and I couldn’t picture going next door and seeing how she was doing.

Why not, though? The worst she’d ever been to me was cool, and she’d said she valued my friendship. I knew better than to believe the stereotypes, knew that she wasn’t the scary demon-worshipper that tabloids were trying to insinuate she was… and I personally wouldn’t have had much reason to worry if she had been. She wouldn’t bite my head off for saying hi. Why should I feel uncomfortable dropping in and saying “hey”?

Part of that might have been on Dee, though… she wasn’t exactly the conversational type, right? But on the other hand, it seemed as though Two had got her to open up when they were roommates. Two had bonded with Hazel in cooking class, and it seemed like their classmates actually did things together. The only classmate I’d made a connection with was Ian, and our one attempt at just plain hanging out had been pretty much an unmitigated disaster.

I suddenly felt very lonely in my dark room.

I had a nice core of very close friends, but what I didn’t have was a lot of people I could just up and hang out with. There wasn’t anybody on the floor whose room I’d feel comfortable just walking up to, or even stepping inside and having a chat. Was that sad? I didn’t really have any basis for comparison, but it seemed to me like that kind of thing was supposed to be a normal part of dorm life.

Well, somebody had asked very enthusiastically for me to go out and do stuff with them, and I’d turned her down. Was it too late to change my mind? I gathered up my clothes, got dressed, and went across the hall. I walked right up to the door and stood there, plagued with uncertainty.

Did I really want to invite more Sooni-flavored crazy into my life so soon? Hadn’t I paid my dues for the week with her already? Was I really that desperate for a little friendly contact?

Then there was a burst of excited laughter from the end of the hall… Steff, and what sounded like Hazel. Were they actually winning? Maybe they were just doing better than they’d expected against Shiel, or had struck an unexpected blow or something.

Whatever it was, I wasn’t a part of it…

Yes, I really was that desperate.

I raised my hand and tapped timidly on the door.

“Sooni?” I said when I got no response. “Um, if you’re in there… I’d like to maybe hang out some more, after all.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the door next to mine, where the Leightons and Twyla lived. The longer I stood in front of Sooni’s closed door, the more I expected to hear their obnoxious taunting laughter. Their room remained as still and as dark as Sooni’s did, though.

I headed back into my own and retrieved the mirror. I’d left it open on the bed… probably not a good thing, considering my track record.

“Suzune Hoshinotama,” I said. “Room 416, Harlowe Hall, Magisterius University.”

My reflection turned to swirly mist right away, but it just kept swirling. After a while, what I assumed must have been her echo trap came on, but the words were in Yokano. I snapped the mirror shut. Of course… if she had gone swimming, she wouldn’t have her mirror handy.

Did I know anybody else?

At all?

I opened the mirror again.

“Gloria… uh, Gloria Dhambizao,” I said, muddling my way through the pronunciation of a name I’d only heard a few times. I didn’t know her dorm, so I just said, “Magisterius University,” and hoped her name was distinct enough to find her. The mirror went dark. I realized then that I could just bring up the campus directory and find her dorm, then either try again or drop by… but that thought made me realize I was being ridiculous. Surprising a slash-happy divinity student who’d never given me any reason to think she might be happy to see me was not the way to expand my circle of friends.

It was silly, really… it wasn’t like Steff wouldn’t step away from her game for me if I went up to the goblinoids’ room and asked her to. They lasted for hours, so surely nobody would object to a half hour break, especially with dinner time creeping up. Hazel would probably jump at the idea of a meal break.

Or else she would have already thought of it, and ordered something, or laid out a lavish spread from her personal stock.

In the end, I decided not to be selfish. Steff had said something about stopping in after her game. I wasn’t going to make her drop what she was doing just because I was having a pity party… it wouldn’t be fair. Also, I really didn’t want to stick my head in where I knew it wasn’t wanted. A lot of people didn’t like me, but Oru was the only one who had bitten me.

In anger, anyway.

Was I actually that sad, or was I just melodramatic? I was starting to act like I didn’t have any friends… and like I didn’t know how to entertain myself. A couple of hours to myself shouldn’t have been a big deal… in fact, before Feejee had come knocking, I’d been looking forward to a little “me” time. I was used to being on my own. I’d been on my own for years before I came to school.

Okay, yeah, maybe I was melodramatic, but I also really was that sad, it seemed. I tried for Ian one more time, thinking if nothing else that maybe we could round up a different group and give the whole card thing another try, minus the beer. I thought I might feel better about being excluded from the war game if I…

Wait, was that it? Was I feeling excluded? That was crazy… I didn’t care about their stupid stone soldiers.

Maybe I did care a little that Steff was having a good time and I wasn’t invited, though. It wasn’t a big deal that she was playing with Hazel and Shiel. I mean, I wasn’t six years old… and I knew she loved me, and she had just come running to make sure I was okay after she heard me screaming.

Though, there must have been quite a bit of screaming before she came…

Luckily, my pointless and angsty introspection was interrupted before it did any damage by a knock on the door and Steff saying in a kind of muffled voice, “Uh, if you’re not busy, could you walk to the healing center with me?”

I didn’t bother with the peephole, but flung the door open to see Steff standing there with a bloody rag over her nose.

“Oh, shit, what happened?” I asked.

“Casualty of war,” she said. It looked as though her nose might have been broken, but she sounded surprisingly chipper. I guess she was used to pain.

Shiel did that?”

“No, actually, it was Two’s friend Hazel,” Steff said.

“Uh, weren’t you on the same side?”

“Yeah, that’s why she was pissing me off,” Steff said. “When she got her entire squad of pikemen wiped out in a stupid suicide charge, it left my flank exposed. Pikemen… charging. Does that make any damn sense to you?”

“Nothing about that game makes sense to me,” I said. “So why did she hit you?”

“Don’t know,” Steff said. “All I got out was ‘you stupid motherfucker’ and then she went completely orcshit on me… you’d think I was the one who was getting us wiped out.”

“You know, to some people, those words could be interpreted as an insult,” I said.

“Yeah, but… I didn’t literally mean she was stupid. She just pulled a dumbass move, and she should be able to handle being called on it,” Steff said. “Anyway, both our healers are out and I don’t feel like walking across campus alone with one hand on my nose and the other fucked up…”

She held up her other hand and I noticed that her index and middle finger were bent weirdly.

Hazel did that?”

“She pulled my hair and tried to stomp my less-than-girly bits, too,” Steff said. “It took Honey, Oru, and Shiel to hold her back.”

Hazel?” I repeated.

“I think she might be a very short werebear,” Steff said. “If she wasn’t Two’s friend…” She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“Well, let me grab my coat, and then we’ll go get you healed,” I said. I wrapped myself up in my big brown overcoat, slid the mirror into my pocket, and then locked up the bedroom. Since taking her hand wasn’t really an option, I put my hand on her shoulder and we headed for the stairs.

“Good thing I’ve got my bloodcatchers on,” Steff said once we were outside, as a crimson drop splashed on her chest. She laughed, and then winced.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Hey… are you still going to the mental healers?”

“Hey, just because I don’t talk about it all the time doesn’t mean I quit going,” Steff said. “I take my potions when I’m supposed to. Just because I got into a fight… which wasn’t my fault… doesn’t mean…”

“Whoa, I’m not checking up on you,” I said. “I was just thinking… earlier, before you came knocking…”

“What were you thinking, sweetie?”

“I don’t really have anybody to talk to here,” I said.

“That’s silly,” she said. “You’ve got me, and Amaranth, and everybody else.”

“But you guys are busy,” I said. “And not exactly… well…”

“Healthy?”

“Neutral,” I said.

“Oh, you don’t think I have anything but your best interests and my personal pleasure at heart, do you?” Steff asked, and I turned to hide my smile. “Seriously, chicky… we’re your friends as well as your lovers. If you don’t feel like you can talk to us… well, maybe that’s what we should talk about.”

“I can talk to you, Steff, but it’s hard for me to sort out my feelings when I’m talking to the people who inspire them.”

“Well, Mack, I’ll be honest: I don’t think it would be a terrible idea for you to get some help cleaning out the attic,” Steff said. “But I don’t want you thinking you have to because nobody else is there for you. I was having fun learning the game, but if you would have knocked on the doorframe and said ‘Steff, let’s go’, I would have been there.”

“Really?”

“Totally,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter if it was for sex, or because you needed my help, or if you needed my help for sex, or if you just wanted some company. Tiny rock people are cool and shit, but they don’t make good friends. Well, there is Craig down on two… but he’s kind of an asshole, so the point stands.”

“Craig?”

“Yeah, he’s a little gargoyle. You don’t see him around Harlowe much because he likes to sleep on top of the chapel.”

“Oh.”

“Hey, is that Dee?” she said. We were just in sight of the healing center, and a black blot was coming around the corner from it. “Ooh, it is! Hey, Dee!” she said, waving her broken hand. The blot changed directions slightly to head towards us, and as we got closer I saw it was indeed the familiar cloak.

“Hey, Dee,” I said when we met up.

“Hello,” Dee said, pushing her cowl up to show her face. She looked at Steff. “I suppose I do not need to inquire why you are heading towards the healing center.”

“Yeah, keen elven perception and all that,” Steff said. “Would you mind saving me the trip? There’s so much bullshit paperwork now.”

“Would I regret asking how you came by these injuries?” Dee said.

“Hazel, if you can believe it,” Steff said.

“Hazel?” Dee repeated.

“Yeah, and she didn’t even need a rolling pin,” Steff said.

“They had a kind of falling out over their war game,” I said.

“A real conflict over an imaginary one,” Dee said. “I am astounded daily that the surface civilizations have not yet wiped each other out completely. What exactly did you say to instigate it?”

“What makes you think I instigated it?” Steff asked. Dee said nothing. Steff sighed, and then said, “Okay, all I said was that she was a stupid motherfucker, and then she…”

“I cannot heal your injury,” Dee said. Her expression had gone from one of mild curiosity to icy indifference with an alarming speed.

“What?” I said.

“Oh, hold the fuck on,” Steff said. “Why not?”

“As I have now told you twice, I will not heal an injury that has been imparted as a manner of honor.”

“How the hell is a beatdown an honorable response to telling someone off?”

“When the telling involves an imputation against their mother.”

What?” Steff said. “Oh, for fucking out loud… ‘motherfucker’ isn’t literal. It’s a figure of speech.”

“That only reflects how distressingly casual the usage of such dire imprecations has become in your society,” Dee said. “While the actions of Two’s friend Hazel were ill-considered, I do not believe they were entirely unwarranted.”

“Oh, come on,” Steff said. “You’re going to let me suffer because somebody thinks I insulted their mother?”

“If your injuries endangered or even seriously inconvenienced you, I would not withhold care to make a point,” Dee said. “But the healing center is right there.”

“Right, so you might as well heal me yourself.”

Dee shook her head.

“The healing center is an impartial institution supported by our student fees,” Dee said. “If they repair your injuries, it means nothing, says nothing. I am an initiated priestess of the forsaken goddess. My use of the power she bestows upon me reflects upon her. In any event, I feel you do not think often or hard enough about the possible consequences of your actions. Hastening your recovery from the attack would not be conducive to changing that.”

“You’re acting like this is something I should have been able to predict,” Steff said. “I go around saying all kinds of shit to people all the time, and this is the first time somebody flew off the handle like this.”

“You know, Steff, I… I don’t think you’re proving her wrong there,” I said. Much as I loved Steff, she really did need to learn to think about what she was saying before she said it… not that I was blameless in that regard… but hey, at least that meant I knew what I was talking about.

“Fuck this,” Steff said. “We stood by you, Dee… yesterday, when you were released, we were there, we helped you dodge the paparazzi…”

“For that, I am grateful,” Dee said, bowing.

“Then show some gratitude,” Steff said.

“Thank you,” Dee said, bowing lower.

“Come on, Steff,” I said. “You could be healed already.”

“I know,” Steff said. “That’s what pisses me off!”

“Are you in a hurry to get anywhere?” I asked Dee.

“I had no aim beyond returning to my room,” Dee said.

“Okay, because I kind of wanted to maybe talk to you, a bit,” I said.

“I have a similar desire,” Dee said.

“I guess I’ll see you back at the dorm, then,” I said.

“Goodbye,” Dee said, bowing her head once to each of us. “I hope this does not unduly impact our friendship.”

Steff just huffed and turned , stomping away towards the healing building.

“Uh, bye,” I said, and then followed after her.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mack… you’re going to turn around and just hang out with her?” Steff said when I caught up with her.

“Steff, she’s not the one who broke your nose,” I said. “Or the one who mouthed off to Hazel. She’s still our friend.”

“She didn’t even apologize.”

“Well… she doesn’t think she did anything wrong,” I said. “And I don’t really agree with her, but I think she has a valid point.”

“Please, Mack… she apologizes to her shadow for stepping on it,” Steff said. “She probably apologizes to the toilet for shitting in it. But do I rate an apology when my brains are dripping down the front of my blouse and she’s afraid her imaginary friend won’t talk to her any more if she steps up and does something about it?”

“Your brains are not… Steff, you’re overreacting,” I said. “You were all ready to go to the healing center anyway before we ran into her. It’s not like she left you any worse off than you were.”

“You’re right, she did me a favor,” Steff said. “Sanctimonious bitch.”

“Steff!” I said. I was surprised by the sharpness in my voice. Steff was, too. “Even if you’re pissed at her, she’s still Two’s friend and my friend, you know.”

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I don’t mean to make you choose between friends. It’s just, I’m in a bit of… well, this really hurts, you know? Physically, I mean.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Come on, let’s just get you healed and then go find Dee… I’d bet you that if you apologized to Hazel and her, she’d apologize to you.”

“Yeah?” Steff asked, grinning lasciviously beneath the ruin of her nose. “What do you bet me?”

“How about an unbreakable gold chain?”

“You don’t have an unbreakable gold chain,” she said.

“Bet you an unbreakable gold chain I do,” I said with a grin.

“I’m not taking that bet, but only because I don’t believe in stealing from friends.”


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4 Responses to “294: On The Nose”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I dunno, i’da thought Steff was the type of person who would steal from friends, in a friendly way, with friendly intentions and then turn around and give you the blouse off her back because you needed it.

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      I feel like she is the kind of person who wouldn’t steal from a friend… unless she was high, in which case she would steal from them to get more potions.

      That is, trustworthy in theory, but prone to behaviors that compromise her trustworthiness.

      Current score: 0
  2. nobody says:

    If Steff had taken both bets she would have broke even or Mackenzie would have 3 unbreakable gold chains, and Mackenzie would have had no net risk regardless of the outcome.

    Proof that Mackenzie understands the reasoning behind almost all bar bets, never suggest a bet that the other person can win.

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      Yep, the first bet was fair enough… but if Steff had taken the second, that would speak to either a woefully low opinion of Mackenzie, or a complete lack of intelligence.

      Current score: 0