295: On The Mend

on October 10, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Wounds Begin To Heal

I caught a glimpse of Lynette Havilland through the window behind the counter, but she turned abruptly and went out of sight. Whatever. As long as somebody was there to treat Steff, I didn’t care who was avoiding me.

The receptionist called Steff a smartass when she gave the answer “gnome-related trauma” for the nature of the injury. She also called Steff by name before she filled out on the form. Considering Steff’s hobbies, that wasn’t really too surprising. I thought Steff was close to blowing her top at several points during the unnecessarily protracted intake process, but when I looked closer I realized she was crying.

Frustration? Pain? Both? Maybe she’d got so used to instantaneous healing… I couldn’t really say, and she had enough questions to deal with. She did get healed, and we headed off.

“Hey, do you think it’s about time we got some dinner?” Steff asked, starting to divert in the direction of the union.

“Kind of, but don’t you think Amaranth might turn up back at the dorm?” I asked. “And Dee’s going to be expecting me.”

“Oh, that’s easy for you to say… you don’t have mortal stomach pangs.”

“Steff, if I can manage a few apologies, so can you,” I said, trying to put some Amaranth-like steel into my voice. It didn’t work. I think I just sounded shrill. The fact that a nymph could come off sterner than I could… well, it was kind of depressing.

“But I’m not sure that I did anything wrong,” Steff said. “If Hazel’s so damned dainty that she can’t stand a little salty language… well, she isn’t that dainty. Trust me. I’ve seen her feet.”

I’ve seen her feet? I decided to stay on-topic… that would be something to puzzle out later.

“Well, Dee had a good point,” I said. “For all we know, in gnomish culture…”

“What culture? They just sit on porches and blow smoke rings!” Steff said.

“Steff, you shouldn’t talk shit about them like that.”

“You’re right, we could be walking past a group of them and never know,” Steff said.

“That isn’t why.”

“All culture is bullshit, Mack,” Steff said. “Look at human culture: slavery, homophobia, misogyny, and all this talk about ‘intrinsic rights’. Look at elven culture: screw your head off for a thousand years or two and then snuff yourself because life is so terribly dreary. I do think all cultures should be given equal consideration, but not because they’re all so great.”

“What about ogre culture?”

There was an uncomfortable pause, during which she actually stopped walking to think… I had thought I was the only one to do that.

Finally, she said, “It’s bullshit, but spread a lot thinner.”

“Well, leaving out what you think of their culture, I think gnomes are a bit more… rustic… than humans,” I said. I hugged my coat around me more tightly now that we’d stopped moving. “They came over at the same time, as near as anybody knows, but they’ve been pretty much ignored and so they’ve just done their thing while humans modernized. Their values are a lot more traditional, which probably means that respect for parents is more important.”

“But, again… and I can’t believe I have to keep pointing this out… ‘motherfucker’ doesn’t actually mean ‘you fuck your mother’. It’s just a generic insult.”

“Okay, but it was an insult,” I said.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t warrant…”

“But it was still an insult,” I said. “So, you owe her an apology, and she owes you one. If you apologize and she doesn’t, that’s… well, it’s a moral victory.”

“Whoop-de-doo, what do I win for that?”

“I don’t know… respect?” I said.

“Mack, I don’t want the respect of anybody if it’s contingent on me bending over and kissing someone’s ass when I don’t want to,” she said. “That includes you.”

“What about self-respect?”

“You know, my next mental healing appointment isn’t until tomorrow, but thank you very much for the attempt at therapy,” Steff said.

“Well… just try apologizing to Hazel, okay?” I said. “If she apologizes back, I bet you’ll feel better, and if she doesn’t you get to feel a sense of smug superiority.”

“Khersis, Mack, what is it with you today?” Steff asked. “I mean, where’s this stuff coming from?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe Amaranth’s influence is wearing off on me?”

“Considering you were getting frisky with Feejee? Seems likely.”

“There’s just so much fighting on our floor,” I said. “All the little groups… the Leightons have their clique, and the skirmishers…”

“Not this weekend,” Steff said. “Away match!”

“I guess that’s why the dorm’s so quiet,” I said. “But, anyway, I just think that if we can get along with each other, then maybe we should.”

“How far does it go?” Steff said. “You forgave Sooni pretty fast. Are you going to pal around Puddy and Belinda next? With… with Leda?”

The mention of Leda stuck out. To my direct knowledge, Leda hadn’t done anything except be reclusive and snotty, but something had obviously happened between Steff and her. This was as close to an open acknowledgment of that as I’d heard from Steff… I would have pressed her on it, but she was right: I wasn’t a mental healer.

“I didn’t forgive Sooni anything,” I said. “I just… recognized her limitations and cut her some slack for them. I think she can become a better person, but that won’t happen if nobody gives her a reason. Same thing with Feejee. I mean, it’s been working for me.”

“Wait, what’s wrong with Feejee? Other than her boyfriend being a trog.”

“Uh… well… she says she hangs out with the Leightons because nobody else reaches out to her, you know?”

“Oh, whatever, Mack… you’re such an awful liar,” Steff said.

“That’s true, though!”

“But it isn’t the whole truth,” Steff said.

“It isn’t like we don’t have secrets,” I said.

“Not from each other,” Steff said. “At least, I thought so.”

“This is all getting way off the point,” I said.

“What is the point?” Steff said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe that I’m trying to make better decisions with my life?”

“You mean better choices than me?” Steff replied, her voice full of scorn. “And feel free to take that either way.”

“I love you, Steff… and I don’t regret, you know, the whole thing of our date,” I said. “I just… I think I’m making too many decisions based on feelings and not enough by thinking. I mean, when I started out here I couldn’t really do anything else, because as soon as I tried to think about what I was doing my brain just got stuck in a giant circle… and you guys have both really helped there… but I think now that I’m starting to get over some stuff, it’s time I started using my head more.”

“Oh? And what was your little assignation with Feejee, then?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “A couple steps forward and a couple steps back? We’re college students, Steff… we’re works in progress. I’ve changed so much in the last month… who knows how much changing I’ve got left to do? I’m growing as a person here, or at least, I’d like to be.”

“I… I see,” Steff said. I thought that she was angry, but again, I was surprised to see that she looked to be near tears.

“Steff?”

“You’re outgrowing me, in other words,” she said. “That’s what this is about… why you’re siding with Dee, and… and…”

“No!” I said. “Oh, fuck no… a thousand times no, Steff! I don’t think I could do this alone, and I wouldn’t want to do it without you. You, and Amaranth.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, rubbing a hand up by her eye and sniffling.

“Steff… what’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know… call it the ‘Loser Curse’,” she said.

“You’re not a loser.”

“I was, though,” she said. “All through high school… and ‘once a loser, always a loser’. That’s the curse. Or maybe something about taking the loser out of high school but not the high school out of… no, that doesn’t really work. The point is, the more awesome friends I get around me, the more I think something’s going to happen and they’re going to find out I’m not a confident queer badass knife fighter but a scrawny, dorky faggot who gets… beat up.”

“Look who you’re talking to,” I said. “I’m not confident, I’m barely badass…”

“Oh, honey, you aren’t even barely,” Steff said. “Not in that coat.”

“I can light myself on fire!” I said.

“I can, too,” Steff said. “Once.”

“Whatever,” I said. “So I’m not badass… the point stands. I’m the one who should feel like she’s sneaking into the cool kids’ club.”

“I’m not… I don’t go around worrying about this all the time,” Steff said. “But, Hazel went off on me, and then Dee… and you…”

“I wasn’t trying to side against you,” I said.

“Well, it didn’t feel like you were on my side.”

“I don’t want to see you lose friends,” I said. “Or even have a bunch of bad blood with Two’s friends. Is that so terrible?”

“I guess not,” Steff admitted. “I mean, on some level… I don’t want to do it because I have this image in my head of Hazel telling me to fuck off. In some charmingly rustic fashion, of course. Part of it really is that I don’t think I did anything that bad, but I just… I don’t want to give her the satisfaction, or maybe… maybe I don’t want to leave myself open.”

“Well, that’s your ‘Loser Curse’,” I said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if you turn your back on Hazel… and Dee… instead of leaving yourself open, what are you going to do about Two? Avoid her, too?”

“No!” Steff said. She shook her head. “Fuck, no… I couldn’t take it out on her.”

“So, you know you have to do something… otherwise, you might end up resenting Two for hanging out with them,” I said.

“I wouldn’t!”

“Like you weren’t resenting me for making plans with Dee?”

“Okay, but… if I make a bunch of apologies I don’t mean in order to keep from losing friends… well… I don’t see that helping me feel like less of a loser,” she said. “Am I really that pathetic?”

“It isn’t pathetic,” I said. I knew what it was like to cling to that little bit of pride in being right when you didn’t feel like you had anything else to be proud of. It could be a real problem. I had my Amaranth to order me to suck it up and apologize, but I wasn’t in a position to do the same for Steff. I tried to come up with something else, instead. The words came to me surprisingly easily. “If you don’t want to apologize to Hazel, per se, then try explaining to her what you told Dee and me. Let her know that you didn’t mean anything about her mother, and you didn’t expect her to take it that way.”

“Seriously, Mack… where are you getting this from?” Steff asked, this time sounding a lot less snarky.

“What do you mean?”

“You sound like my mother, or something.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m just… like I said, I’m trying to think things through more. Anyway, weren’t you the one who told me to get over it and talk to Amaranth after our first fight?”

“I’m not sure you insulting her beliefs and friends and her running off sobbing into the night counts as a fight,” Steff said.

“You knew what I meant,” I said, glaring. Steff had a real talent for ruining moments.

“Yeah, well… I guess advice is one area where I’m better at giving than taking,” she said. She forced a laugh. “I think maybe the reason I had an easy time seeing what you were doing is because I’ve done it myself… I knew what you had to do because I know what I should do. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

“Yeah, that’s the hard part,” I said. “Come on, let’s go back before it gets any darker… and colder. I’ll go with you to talk to Hazel, and then Dee, since we wanted to talk, anyway.”

“What did you want to talk to her about?”

I shrugged.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever just talked with her, you know? She’s our friend and she hangs out with us sometimes, sort of, but it kind of feels like she’s on the outside looking in on our conversations.”

“I know what you mean,” Steff said.

“Have you ever tried talking to her?”

“Once.”

“How’d it go?”

“It went… okay,” she said. “Kind of got cut short, by… other stuff.”

“You know, what you said to me applies the other way around,” I said. “I’m glad you’re going to the healers, but you can still talk to me, about… well… anything.”

“Not yet, I can’t,” Steff said, shaking her head. “Maybe someday.”

It was progress. I’d take it.


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7 Responses to “295: On The Mend”

  1. pedestrian says:

    We are all very loud at giving bad advice
    and very deaf at listening to good advice.

    Current score: 0
  2. Arkeus says:

    Mack is growing up. Beautiful.

    Current score: 0
  3. Anthony says:

    Yes, Steff, you really are that pathetic. And the thing is, all the other characters are growing and improving somehow, in their own way. Even Sooni. But you, you just keep getting worse and worse as the story goes on. Not better. I wish Mackenzie *would* outgrow you, once and for all…

    Current score: 0
    • C says:

      I am not sure if this is a spoiler and kick your face in, or if it is an opinion and just respectfully keep my mouth shut.

      Current score: 0
  4. P says:

    Redeeming chapter. Dee may be the bestest character of them all.

    Current score: 0
  5. Maesenko says:

    “Yeah, well… I guess advice is one area where I’m better at giving than taking,” she said. She forced a laugh. “I think maybe the reason I had an easy time seeing what you were doing is because I’ve done it myself… I knew what you had to do because I know what I should do. It’s just a matter of doing it.”

    This line resonates with me on so many levels. I’ve said similar to others and myself many times, but it always comes back around when I’m having problems. It’s one of the things that is slowest to change about me, but I do get better at it every time it does come around.

    Current score: 1
  6. MentalBlank says:

    “Gnome-related Trauma” XD

    Current score: 0