328: Hard Knocks, Soft Sells

on December 10, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie Raps

I braced myself before knocking on the door… was I really about to do this? Puddy was as far gone out of my life as she had been since the year had started. Why reach out to her now?

Of course, there were limits to how far removed we could be, living on the same floor as each other. The fact that we hadn’t spoken in forever hadn’t stopped her from seeking me out in an arena full of people to try to push me around a little more. If my vague, half-formed plan worked, it could be the basis for a new relationship between us.

Or to phrase it a little bit better, a new way of relating to each other, one based less on my fear of her and her… whatever she felt towards me. She didn’t intimidate me any more, but it was still her reflex to try to control me, to act like a word from Mariel should be enough to get me moving.

No, not a word… two words.

Puddy says.

At the arena I’d tried granting what I had thought was a not completely unreasonable request, and all it had got me was grief when Puddy expected that same level of accommodation for her next demand. Even if our paths crossed infrequently, I didn’t think we could make it through a whole school year the way we were going. I needed her to get used to the idea of interacting with me on a more equal basis.

Yeah, that was going to happen.

Probably it would be best to focus on the immediate goal of getting some money for the TV. Any secondary effects in reforming Puddy or changing the basis for our interactions would happen or they wouldn’t.

In any event, whether she answered or Mariel did, I couldn’t exactly expect to be welcomed with open arms… open hostility, possibly… or heavy arms, maybe. Or lots of arms and open garments, if it happened to be Mariel.

Really, there were a lot of ways the wordplay could go, and none of them were all that good.

In any sense of the word.

I was hoping for Puddy. Not just because she was the one I actually wanted to talk to, but also because I felt I could understand her better than I could Mariel’s unreasoning jealousy. Puddy was selfish and stubborn and vindictive and almost as deluded in her own small way as Sooni was in her big one, but she was predictable.
Mariel was not.

Tiny and delicate as she was, I could see Mariel lashing out with the same sudden ferocity as Oru had when she’d bitten my leg… and somebody who lived their moments at the speed of the wind could do a lot of damage with a momentary lapse of judgment.

“Well?” Kiersta said, from where she was still standing back by my room.

I realized I’d gone right up to the point of knocking and then froze. It was time to do it. I told myself that I just looked like an idiot standing there with my knuckles raised, and I’d only look stupider if I turned around and walked away without actually knocking.

Yes, Kiersta, my brilliant plan for fixing everything is too brilliant to be fully explained even by me, but it involves pantomime.

I took a deep breath and I knocked.

For several moments it seemed like nobody was in… there was no sound from the room except some faint music, which could have been a music box somebody had left on. Then there was the sound of weight… more weight than Mariel had, even before her haircut… shifting on a bed and heavy footsteps. I was in luck, so to speak.

The peephole went dark for a second and then the door opened. Puddy stood there. Every inch of her, from the curly blonde hair that was apparently a family trait to the thick forearms that bulged beneath her sweater sleeves, seemed to be radiating anger.

“What do you want?” she asked with a casualness in her voice that didn’t match the stabbing hatred in her eyes.

This would have been the perfect time to use a little finesse, to concoct a bold story about how I was going door to door, like it was a coincidence that hers just happened to be first… maybe even make her think that I didn’t want to be offering her this chance but I had to. That way I could dangle the bait in front of Puddy’s greedy little eyes and cunningly reel her in without letting her know how badly I needed her help in particular.

It wouldn’t be that hard… I was counting on Puddy’s predictability. She liked to manipulate people, but in the end, she was so simple and straightforward that she would be easy to manipulate herself.

Yeah. All I needed was somebody else to do the talking.

Somebody smooth, and suave, and better at lying.

“Hello? I asked you a question,” Puddy repeated. I could hear echoes of her cousin Keri La Belle in her voice. Even though Keri was a little prep girl and Puddy was a would-be demihuman radical lesbian whatever, there was a hint of the same style of obnoxiousness within both of them. “What… do… you… want?”

Her glare transfixed me. I didn’t have an answer composed, but my throat was sticking so badly that it hardly mattered. She started to close the door.

It seemed like it was now or never.

“Hey, um… did you know they don’t have any dorm funds for Harlowe?” I asked.

“So what?”

Yeah, so what? Puddy had latched onto the fight for equality because it gave her an excuse to throw a big fit about stuff and be the center of attention, to fight the good fight and be the hero without doing much more than getting in people’s faces… but just like Sooni and the senate, she’d dropped it when it hadn’t “worked”.

I had to make her care about it again… and that meant showing her how she could benefit from it.

“Well… it seems to me like somebody whose family had some gold could do something about that, if the administration won’t,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“Well.. it’s a chance to do some good, and…”

“‘For a change’, you mean,” she said.

“I didn’t say that,” I said quickly.

“As if I didn’t pull your ass out of the fire a bunch of times already.”

“Thank you,” I said. She had got Rocky to back off, at least, and she had provided at least short-term fixes to some of my other problems, even if they weren’t worth her price in the long-term. “Really. But this is bigger than me… at the start of the year, you were pretty up in arms about this kind of thing.”

“Yeah, and that worked out real well for me,” she said. “I did all the groundwork and then you stepped in, pushed me out, and then abdicated to fuzzy-ears.”

“That’s not… look, Puddy, forget about me for a second, okay?”

“For just a second?” she asked. “You’re joking, right? I forget about you all the damn time.”

“Over in Ian’s dorm, this guy, Arthur Weyland? He has his name on a plaque by the TVs,” I said. I didn’t mention that the whole dorm was named after him. I doubted Puddy’s family had that kind of clout and I didn’t want her to think she was angling for the consolation prize.

“Who the hell is Arthur Weyland?” she asked.

“Well, he’s some lord,” I said. “But at one point he was a student here, and now everybody watches TV over there has a sign staring at them saying it’s thanks to him.”

“So?” she said. “TV is such a stupid, human thing. I don’t watch TV.”

“Yeah, but… they get them in the human dorms,” I said. “It’s the principle, right? It sends a message.”

“Don’t feed me that line of shit,” Puddy said. “I taught you that line of shit.”

“You did,” I agreed. “And outside the dorm, you’re still the one everybody knows.”

“Not like they know you,” she said. “Or Drow-lea Drow-ella.” I told myself that she didn’t mean anything personal by that. She was just venting. “Even fucking Two probably has her own little fan club now, I bet.”

“She has friends,” I said. “And a lot of that’s because of her love of food, which, you know… I guess you kind of helped?”

That much was true. Puddy had seen encouraging Two’s indulgent side as way more important than I had. Of course, at the time, I hadn’t exactly been eating food myself.

“Nice of you to give me some credit,” she said.

“Look, I get recognized because I was on TV. You’re recognized because you’re you. People who’ve never seen you go, ‘Oh, there’s Puddy.’ That didn’t change just because the rest of us got, you know, a bunch of news stories about us.”

“You shouldn’t try to flatter me, Mack,” she said. “You’re no good at it, and I don’t need it. I know who I am.”

“Yeah, you don’t need it,” I said. “I saw you in the arena… some of your fights. You were kicking ass. It took a giant to beat you… and that could have gone either way if her weapon hadn’t, you know. Smote. Smited.”

“Damn right!” she said. “That fucking spearchucker set me up .”

This was the woman who’d wanted to be the vanguard of the Harlowe struggle for equal rights? Pick your battles, Mack, I thought. Then I thought, when did I start calling myself Mack, even inside my own head?

That was a little bit weird to me. I’d changed quite a bit since I started college, but I liked to think I was the same person inside. I’d answer to Mack, because that was how my friends thought of me… most of them had been introduced to me that way… but I had been Mackenzie for most of my life. It seemed odd to think the weight of so many years could be shed so easily, that…

“If you think staring at my tits is going to be any more flattering, think again,” Puddy said. “I know you’re not that discriminating.”

“What? No, I just kind of look down when I think!” I said. “Fucking hell… anyway, if you’re not interested, just say. There are other people in the dorm from rich families, you know,” I said.

That was as close to cunning and sophisticated as I was going to be able to get, on my truth budget. Sooni was broke. I probably could finagle the money out of Feejee, but only if I gave her something in return… and I doubted Leda would feel charitable or be swayed by the prospect of having her name forever associated with this heap of bricks.

“Yeah? Who?” she asked. “You think the duck queen is going to chip in for a TV?”

“I don’t think it’s impossible that other people in the dorm might like the chance to contribute to making Harlowe a better place to live,” I said.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

She sounded torn. The fact that she didn’t say no made me think the answer would possibly be yes. Puddy liked to appear decisive and in control. If the answer was at all likely to be negative, she wouldn’t miss the chance yell “hell no” to my face and then slam the door… but if the answer was positive, she’d want to take her time coming around to it instead of giving in right away.

Time for one last attempt at slyness.

“Okay,” I said. “But… if you wait too long, somebody else might jump on it, you know.”

“I said I’ll think about it,” she said, with an air of finality, but she looked hungry as she closed the door.

I turned and gave Kiersta a weak smile, as if to say, “There, I did something.” It wasn’t much. It wasn’t final. It was more than she’d done, though, and she’d have to be happy with that.

“So… when are you going to talk to those other people?” she asked.

…or not.

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3 Responses to “328: Hard Knocks, Soft Sells”

  1. Anthony says:

    …oh. I was thinking she’d talk to Feejee!

    Current score: 2
  2. Jechtael says:

    Oh, foo. Now I might have to get used to calling her “Mack”. Well, unkess she expresses a preference rather than just a habit, it might not be necessary.

    The fifth floor girls’ side isn’t the only floor. There might even be people with rich parents who went to MU and maybe even stayed at Harlowe, depending on how short their reproductive cycle is and how long Harlowe’s been a place for dumping demihumans and semihumans.

    Current score: 2